It's Our Turn to Serve

Peter Long, Ph.D.

A lot can happen in a year. Twelve months ago Osama bin Laden was the most wanted man in the world and “occupy” was just a word, not a movement. As a father, I witness how much children grow and personalities develop over a year.  The toy that used to go everywhere with a child becomes a distant memory and something new fills its place.

One year is also the typical deployment length for a service member who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. These deployments are not one-time occurrences; many service members deploy two, three, or even more times with limited time at home with their families in between. On top of the inherent stress of multiple long deployments, many service members return home with mental health conditions – post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and traumatic brain injuries – that make life at home more difficult and them more susceptible to marital strain and family violence.  

Over the past three years, Blue Shield of California Foundation has supported community-based strategies and programs for military and veteran families, which complement and extend essential services provided by the Department of Defense and Veteran’s Administration. The Foundation has invested resources to:

  • Contribute new knowledge about what works to promote stability in military families;
  • Support effective and innovative mental health wellness programs; and
  • Engage new stakeholders, especially other foundations, to provide military and veteran family support.

To share what we’ve learned through our work with military families and veterans, Bess Bendet, Program Director of Blue Shield Against Violence, recently convened a session at the Council on Foundations annual conference entitled, “Supporting Our Military Families: Partnerships, Innovation, and Entry Points,” to explore how the broader field of philanthropy can engage to effectively address the needs of military families. To date, a few foundations have invested in military families, but it is not enough given the tremendous sacrifices made by these families and the significant levels of unmet need.

Based on our experiences working with highly effective organizations such as Alternatives to Domestic Violence, Blue Star Families, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and others, we firmly believe that nearly every health and social service organization can identify concrete ways to support military families while maintaining their organizational mission and priorities. It is a matter of identifying the right entry point and focusing on how an organization can apply its existing assets. We look forward to continuing a dialogue with other funders, federal officials, and civil society about how to support the service members and their families who have served our nation over the past decade.

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