Montclair Film Festival was pleased to host a free community conversation, Our Nation’s Heroes Return: What’s Next?, last Sunday at the Audible Lounge. The panel discussion focused on services for veterans and followed the screening of Tom Donahue’s THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE, a documentary about the plight of veterans after returning home from war.
The moderator was Marcy Felsenfeld, Senior Program Officer at the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey. Panelists included:
- Tom Donahue, director of THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE
- J. Michael Armstrong, Chief Executive Officer of Community Hope (veteran)
- Tim Arora, Clinical Social Work Intern at Family Connections-Operation Veterans to Social Workers (veteran)
- Terrell McCain, Program Manager of Vet2Vet National Call Program at Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care (veteran)
- Karen Sacks, Esq., Executive Director of Volunteer Lawyers for Justice
Here are some highlights from this timely and very important conversation.
“Nearly 6 million Americans have served in the military since the 9/11 attacks.”
“The film THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE shows that many veterans believe there is a stigma attached to those who seek mental services for those suffering from PTSD and other war-related stresses. There is often a fear that no one else knows what I am going through.”
“One major issue for many veterans stems from getting a negative or dishonorable discharge. There are six different ways to be discharged and veteran benefits can be diminished based on the more negative discharge levels. Veterans need help from lawyers and legal experts to change the status of those negative discharges so their access to benefits can be improved.”
“It’s important to create a gateway of veterans available to provide services and speak to other veterans in need. Only veterans understand exactly what other veterans are going through. Now it’s crucial to train veterans to provide the counseling services for other veterans.”
“This has been the first war when a very large percentage of the soldiers have been from the National Guard.”
“Many of our veterans need legal help due to a suspension of their driver’s license. They may have gone overseas with some unpaid parking tickets or other violations. They return to find their licenses suspended. They cannot begin their job hunting without a driver’s license, and help with reinstating their licenses is a service they often need.”
“Unique services need to be provided to the large number of female veterans today. Their needs can be different, since studies suggest around 78% of female soldiers were sexually harassed and 24% were sexually assaulted during active duty.”
“Family members of veterans face some challenges getting services they need for their vet and for other family members. They need to encourage their veteran to reach out to get services and not worry about the stigma attached to seeking some help. Family members themselves can call helplines to get tips and guidance.”
“We need a new approach. Instead of the current way—vets returning home and avoiding services due to a stigma—why can’t we start a movement where all vets coming home get services right away? All vets experience normal reactions after dealing with the abnormal realities of war.”
“Homelessness for veterans continues to be a challenge. Fortunately, rates of homelessness have declined over the last five years. Unfortunately, for the veteran who is homeless, it is difficult to focus on anything but where you will sleep at night. Community of Hope is providing services to these vets in 13 counties in NJ and 8 counties in PA.”
Written by MFF blogger Nancy VanArsdale.