THE BLOG
11/13/2012 11:33 pm ET | Updated Jan 13, 2013

Recognizing Options for Healing This Veterans Day

As we celebrate Veterans Day I am reminded of the sacrifices made by our nation's service members, and I am proud that many of my fellow citizens paused on November 11 to honor those who defend and protect our country. I am also keenly aware that this generation of warriors has spent 11 years fighting the War on Terror. Our country's longest war has had a profound effect on those who fight and the families who wait for them at home.

The human consequence of war is often measured by effects we can easily observe -- over 6,600 killed in action and 50,000 who bear the physical scars of battle. But the invisible injuries sustained during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have also severely challenged those who wear the uniform and their loved ones. Those who suffer from these invisible wounds walk among us every day, struggling to rejoin families and reclaim lives left behind. The weight of this struggle and the burden they carry through days spent wondering why everything seems different is often shouldered alone. In addition, repeated deployments and time spent away from home has had a profound impact on our military families. We are now seeing clear indications that many military spouses and children are suffering as a result of their loved one's service.

In 2005 I founded Give an Hour to provide help and hope to returning service members, veterans and their families. Over 6,500 mental health professionals have joined the Give an Hour network and are providing free mental health services across the country. Collectively, our providers have now donated over 70,000 hours -- valued at approximately $7 million -- of care to those who have given so much to our nation. An important component of our work is that those who seek care through Give an Hour know that any information they provide remains confidential. In addition, we don't track those who visit our site or those who receive care. Over time it has become clear to us how very important the elements of confidentiality and anonymity are to the population we now serve. These men and women must have the opportunity to share their experiences and their stories with whom they choose, when they choose and how they choose.

We are proud of the service we provide and extremely appreciative of the thousands of mental health professionals who have stepped up to answer the call to action. We know that the hours donated by our network of caring providers is a critical and wise investment -- not just for the families being supported, but for our nation's future.

As a result of the work I do leading Give an Hour's efforts, I often encounter impressive individuals who are joining the effort to support those who serve. Some of these individuals are civilians who feel the need to do their part; others are veterans who have finished their commitment to the Department of Defense but are compelled to continue serving here at home. Some of these returning veterans are creating interesting and innovative organizations and opportunities that will do much to support those who come home with the invisible injuries of war.

Give an Hour is proud to support several of these excellent endeavors. We have recently become aware of a project that seems especially noteworthy as we approach Veterans Day. The Bare the Burden project is a nonprofit organization that seeks to create an online community of healing for returning veterans. It is based on many of the same principles as Give an Hour -- community, anonymity and voluntary participation -- and will leverage the power of technology and the internet to provide veterans with an important and trusted resource: one another. We have learned from our veterans that many of them suffer significant isolation when they leave the military, return home and are separated from their brothers and sisters in arms. Opportunities to connect with one another are valuable and necessary.

While other online communities for veterans exist, Bare the Burden is unique in that it provides a guided process for participation in a common community. Veterans navigate the system with the assistance of prompts that generate a profile of their unique experience. They are guided to specific information tailored to their interests and needs as well as to groups of veterans within the larger online community who are struggling with similar issues and challenges. The Bare the Burden process is designed to gradually delve into more sensitive information as the user becomes more comfortable. It allows initially reluctant users to feel comfortable and safe as they share their concerns and their "burdens" with others.

In addition to creating an online community where veterans can share their struggles and the healing process together, Bare the Burden's partnership with organizations like Give an Hour will facilitate treatment when appropriate and enable research so that we can better understand how to address the pain and suffering experienced by far too many returning warriors.

I have learned many things over the last seven years about assisting those who serve -- but one thing has been especially important to understand. One size doesn't fit all when it comes to helping returning troops heal from the invisible injuries that often accompany them home from battle. Efforts like Bare the Burden are so important, and we at Give an Hour will always be proud to serve alongside partners whose mission is to bring relief to those who have given so much and ask for so little.