(Guest post by Barbara Van Dahlen, PhD, psychologist, founder and president of Give an Hour)
Every American adult can pinpoint exactly where they were on Sept. 11, 2001, when they heard the news that we were under attack, and most of us can recall exactly how we spent that day and the next several. That day changed so much. It set in motion a series of events and decisions that continue to affect so many lives 10 years later.
Our country went to war 10 years ago, and we remain at war today. More than 2.2 million men and women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11. More than 6,000 service members have died in these wars and tens of thousands have come home with visible and invisible injuries resulting from their experience in combat.
While some Americans decided to serve our country by joining the military effort, others chose to focus on caring for those who come home from war. During the first few years of the war in Iraq efforts at home focused on creating care packages to ship overseas so that our men and women fighting there would know our country supported them. This was a very different America than the one that failed to welcome home veterans from Vietnam.
But the Iraq War continued to grind on, and the fighting in Afghanistan intensified. Homefront efforts to support the men and women of our armed forces began to take into account the reality that many of our soldiers, Marines, airmen, and sailors were serving four, five, and even six tours of duty. And many people and groups began to focus on providing support for the families—of the fallen, of the injured, of those who came home to a struggling economy and to an uncertain future.
My own organization, Give an Hour, was founded six years ago out of concern for the mental health of those who experience the brutality of war and with awareness that war comes home to affect the wives, husbands, children, and other loved ones of those who serve.
Give an Hour was founded with the belief that the mental health community has important knowledge and expertise to offer and to share during this time of war. This is an opportunity for the mental health community to do our part to serve our country, by offering free services to our armed forces, their families, and their communities. It is an opportunity to fill gaps in care and service by joining with colleagues in the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to help those who fight heal from the invisible injuries of war.
To mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Give an Hour is joining with mental health partners, including the American Psychological Association and other state and national mental health associations, by asking all mental health professionals to support those who serve and their families.
We are asking our mental health colleagues to make a commitment by 9/11 to join an organization like Give an Hour or another pro bono effort in their community, or to give a talk in their community about the issues that affect those who serve and their families.
Anyone can join the the 9/11 Tribute Movement and offer a way to honor the 9/11 victims, survivors and those that rose in service in response to the attacks.
And you don’t have to be a mental health professional to support the men, women and families who serve our country. Take the time to educate yourself about the issues our returning troops and their families face as they return to our communities. Offer to join efforts to help military families that are currently underway through nonprofit organizations or veterans services organizations.
The anniversary of 9/11 provides us with an opportunity to refocus our attention and renew our commitment to our returning troops and their families. Americans have the chance to ensure that all of those who serve our country come home to the services they need, the support they deserve, and the understanding and respect that a truly grateful nation can provide. Please join us.
Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen is a clinical psychologist in the Washington, D.C. area and president of Give an Hour. Concerned about the mental health implications of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Dr. Van Dahlen founded the nonprofit organization in 2005.
Photo by the U.S. Army (via flickr)