Group Plans 'National Day of Awakening' on Mental Health

By Sharon Foster
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 30, 2009 - A Maryland-based troop-support group is planning a "National Day of Awakening" to highlight the merntal health needs of military families and the services available to them.

"We are very excited about this opportunity to raise awareness and awaken the general public to the issues facing our military families," said Barbara Van Dahlen Romberg, founder and president of Give an Hour, which provides free mental health services to redeployed troops. "In addition to a large day-long event in New York City, our goal is to have numerous community events going on simultaneously across the country."

Give an Hour is planning the National Day of Awakening for October, and the New York event will include a gathering of mental health groups that provide services to military families at an outdoor venue. The event will be open to the public, and speakers and musicians will be invited to "entertain, inform and inspire," Romberg said.

Gatherings across the country will include local and national military and veterans groups, corporations, local governments and community groups, she said.

Organizers hope The National Day of Awakening will fulfill several purposes, Romberg said.

"It will continue the critical process of educating all citizens on issues affecting our returning warriors," she explained. "The event will serve to signal a new era of collaboration and coordination among organizations and individuals who have answered the call to serve this population. The event will also awaken all citizens to the huge resources available to servicemembers."

Romberg added the events will provide an immediate focus for the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act for people interested in serving and helping troops and their families. President Barack Obama signed the act into law April 21. Among other provisions, it created the Veterans Corps as a new national service organization.

Army Spc. Jennifer Crane, a combat veteran who uses Give an Hour services, said she is pleased about the October event.

"I served in Afghanistan in 2003," Crane said. "I was diagnosed with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. Give an Hour has provided me with amazing free mental health care that I so desperately needed. I have been seeking help through them for about a year now, and it has been a wonderful experience. Today, I am a functioning member of society because of them. I know this event will help many other servicemembers and their families."

Rolando J. Diaz, a licensed clinical psychologist, said he joined Give an Hour because he was searching for a way to support servicemembers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. He thinks the National Day of Awakening will be a huge success.

"So much of the work of this organization is about creating awareness, not only among providers but also servicemembers ? knowing that they can get these services free of charge and that they do not have to feel bad about asking for help," Diaz said. "This is what makes this program work. The National Day of Awakening will be very beneficial. If needed, I plan to participate."

Romberg said she believes the event could have far-reaching implications in assisting military families.

"The National Day of Awakening will be a call to action for all citizens to assist the 1.9 million Americans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and the estimated 20 million directly affected by a loved one's service," she said. "We have the opportunity to unite our country in our concern and compassion for military families."

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