By: Suzanne Robinson
NAMI has launched a new education program called NAMI Homefront, a six-session adaptation of the evidence-based NAMI Family-to-Family Education Program. This free program will focus on the unique needs of families of Military Service Members and Veterans who are living with mental illness and often face post-deployment or post-discharge challenges.
A recent study found that nearly one in five of the men and women deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2004 live with severe depression or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and have experienced more traumatic brain injuries than in any previous military campaign. Those returning with devastating injuries face living with both physical and psychological pain. Tragically, since the beginning of the invasion of Afghanistan, more Service Members have died as a result of suicide than combat. A diagnosis of mental illness results in immediate separation or discharge from active duty, which may explain why only half of all service personnel affected by the symptoms of mental illness seek treatment.
Other Veterans face invisible wounds related to PTSD which limit daily functioning despite appearing able-bodied to society. Some Veterans have difficulty adjusting to separation from the military and loss of their connection to a unit or status as part of an elite team with specialized skills; they may face unemployment due to expertise that may not easily translate to civilian settings.
This has an impact on families, often leaving them confused, angry and lost in trying to help a loved one. Families sacrifice cohesion, communication and daily interaction during deployments. Less than two percent of the general population serves in the military so there is a sense of isolation among Military Service Members and Veteran families because others cannot relate to their experiences. Fear for the safety of the deployed strains families and some relationships do not survive multiple deployments.
NAMI has chosen to provide education, support and encouragement to the families of Service Members and Veterans because of the growing need that is the result of recent wars. Other families also confront symptoms of mental illness and the challenge of navigating mental health care systems, but the circumstances of Service Members and Veterans are often unique. NAMI is well-situated to provide a connection between family members and community resources.
NAMI has a history of partnership and collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). NAMI Family-to-Family classes have been taught in VA hospitals and clinics throughout the country since the late 1990s. Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) between NAMI and the VA were signed in 2008 and 2010 to offer NAMI Family-to-Family in VA facilities. Since the first MOU in 2008 the course has been presented 189 times in 114 different VA facilities in 49 states and the District of Columbia with great success.
“You realize that he will never be the same having been through war. I learned how to treat him more as an adult than as a hurt child.” —Mother of a Veteran in Ohio after graduating from a NAMI Family-to-Family VA class
NAMI Homefront will address the very specialized needs of Service Member and Veteran Families. NAMI has established an expert advisory group comprised of Veterans, family members, the VA, the Department of Defense, the Rand Corporation and the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving to help guide the program.
In early 2014, the first round of NAMI Homefront classes will be taught in six states that are piloting the program (Illinois, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and South Carolina). Instructors will be drawn from NAMI Affiliates with experience teaching NAMI Family-to-Family at VA sites, along with family members of Service Members and Veterans. A free online course will be offered later in the year. NAMI Homefront will be available across the nation by the summer of 2014.