Montgomery County Maryland is home to an abundance of effective nonprofit organizations and some of the finest military medical institutions in the country, including the new state-of-the-art Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda. However, up until recently, communication was lacking between the military and the local community's understanding of how to best work together to meet the needs of service members, veterans and their families. That disconnect has been felt by many communities across the country, particularly those who are serving or who have served in the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families.
I know this from personal experience. My husband, who has been in the Marine Corps for 10 years, has been deployed four times. Three of those deployments were to Iraq. Each deployment has come with its own rewards and difficulties, but one constant has been the challenge of where to turn for resources for myself or to help a friend. Jack Kenney had a similar experience after a 2005 tour in the Al-Anbar Province as a Marine rifleman. Overseas, his squad faced challenges together. Upon returning home, that brotherhood wasn't always available. It was up to him to move forward and while he says community support and resources could never replace his squad, they would have helped to support his transition. Another Montgomery County resident, Lee Ann Doerflinger, didn't know where to turn when her son, Army SPC Thomas K. Doerflinger, was killed in Iraq on Nov. 11, 2004.
There is good news this week for people like us and for the 50,000 veterans, active duty, National Guard, Reserve service members and their families who call Montgomery County home. A new website, www.servingtogetherproject.org, is transforming the previously disjointed system from one that lacked coordination and sometimes couldn't adequately serve military families to one that rallies the entire community around Montgomery County military families by providing access to local resources and helping them stay healthy, find local jobs and transition to civilian life.
Serving Together, a project of Mental Health Association of Montgomery County, focuses on all service members including National Guard and Reservists, veterans, those transitioning back to civilian life and their families in Montgomery County. It can also be a resource for wounded warriors, their families and caregivers receiving care at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Many veterans face significant and complex challenges relating to reintegration into the community, such as the need for housing, health care, counseling and employment services.
Longer and multiple deployments can compound health, mental health, financial and other challenges. Overcoming these can be particularly acute for National Guard and Reservists who after deployment generally do not go back to a military base but rather to their homes, civilian workplace and communities, which may not always understand their military experience. Traumatic brain injury, amputation and post-traumatic stress disorder are considered the signature wounds of these conflicts.
While there are certainly important immediate needs, a recent report from the Institute of Medicine predicted that requests for disability care and compensation among veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan would not peak until 2040. The Serving Together website will provide continuously-updated information about how to access helpful resources for veterans and their families as long as there is a need.
The website provides direct access to information regarding local organizations and resources, from military discharge forms from the National Archives and Record Administration, to contact information for enrollment in Montgomery County Public Schools, to local mental health and social services. A calendar of community activities features veteran events, such as hiring fairs and professional training opportunities.
Our veterans and their families bring so much to our communities. Resources and services should be easily accessible for those who need them. As a military spouse, I find comfort in this resource, for me, the families I know and the many more military, veterans and families in our community. Happy Veteran's Day.