Supporting Our Troops, In More Ways Than One
by Jacqueline Ogg
Commissioner, Montgomery County Commission on Veterans Affairs
I clearly recall the crisp fall day in 2006 when, in downtown Silver Spring, MD, I saw for the first time a young man walking gingerly on an artificial leg. Next to him was a young woman – a wife or girlfriend, I presumed — both of them focused, but smiling and enjoying the day’s outing. Both had on U.S. Army t-shirts.
In the weeks, months and years to come, I would see more and more soldiers – both men and women – getting out into the community and rebuilding their lives after sustaining severe wounds in Iraq and Afghanistan. I came to learn that many were receiving care and services at Walter Reed Amy Medical Center in Washington, DC, a short distance from downtown Silver Spring.
I live close to Walter Reed, but the only thing I knew about it was what I read in the newspapers. The needs, and strengths, of soldiers and families being treated at the hospital — let alone the realities of families engaged in the wars — seemed a world away. I felt moved to help, but had no connections to help me find the best way.
As it turns out, I was not alone in feeling so disconnected. In 2007 and 2008, a number of civic leaders, philanthropists and nonprofit executives came together to explore ways in which the local community could become more supportive of our military neighbors. As Deputy Director of The Community Foundation for Montgomery County, I was fortunate to a part of this process.
With the help of a needs-assessment study funded by The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region and Montgomery County Government, we began to get a better picture of how to bridge these two worlds. We knew that the U.S. military offered many effective programs and that, even during the worst of the economic downturn, initiatives were launched, including employment programs and respite services as well as information and referral resources. But we also recognized that, despite its many efforts, the U.S. Military simply could not do it all. To his credit, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, himself a veteran, created the region’s first Commission on Veterans Affairs to give the issue sustained attention.
What we learned is that, while many programs supporting troops, veterans, and military families exist, coordination between these agencies and delivery of services were ongoing challenges, leaving our troops and their families both frustrated and in chronic need. The situation was exacerbated by alarming factors largely brought on by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — rising rates of unemployment, mental illness, domestic violence, homelessness and even suicide affecting service members and military families.
Now with a four-year matching grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Mental Health Association of Montgomery County, in collaboration with military, public and nonprofit partners including The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, has launched Serving Together: Troops, Veterans and Family Care Project. The project will help active-duty soldiers and their families in Montgomery County — including soldiers receiving medical care, soldiers transitioning out of the military and into civilian life, and veterans already separated from the Armed Forces — better access community-based services focused on health, mental health, and other supports. Serving Together also will reach the more than 700 wounded warriors and their families/caregivers from across the United States who are residing in Montgomery County and receiving care at military medical facilities.
Serving Together promises to be this region’s conduit for leveraging the goodwill of many, like myself, looking for strategic and effective ways to serve those who have served us.
To learn more and get involved with the Serving Together Project, visit http://www.mhamc.org or contact Kensei Phillips, The Community Foundation’s Director of Philanthropic Advisory Services, at (202) 263-4769 or email@example.com.