In This Issue

Fostering a sense of community among veterans: What we can learn from the Stand Down

Veterans Stand Down is a program that provides homeless veterans both psychological and physical health services.

By Jessica Kelley Morgan

At APA's 2013 Annual Convention in Honolulu, Jon Nachison, PhD, received a presidential citation for his work on the Veterans Stand Down, a program where he provides psychological and physical health services to homeless veterans. His work has prompted similar events across the country, each taking on its own form based on the needs of the particular community. In North Carolina, the city of Durham recently held its 2013 Bull City Stand Down, where all veterans, male and female, were offered free access to a number of services. Services at the Bull City Stand Down included a free dental clinic, food, clothing, basic medical and legal assistance, housing benefits, educational benefits, haircuts, substance abuse and mental health assistance, job counseling, Veterans Affairs benefits assistance, local health and human services, personal care and supplies, flu shots, mammograms, showers, and entertainment. Although this list is extensive, as a community psychologist, I understand the value beyond these tangibles. Events like these foster a sense of community, a sense of belonging, and social cohesion. It is essential that we see the value in programs like these and the effect that they can have on well-being. Further research will be needed to quantify these effects, and I implore our community to continue to find ways to foster these, as they are vital to the social identity and psychological well-being of those who have served our country.

From an ecological perspective (Kelly, 1966; Trickett, Kelly, & Todd, 1972) , we understand that an individual does not live in a vacuum. At times, psychosocial problems in living are as much about the environment as they are about the individual. Further, we must concern ourselves with the person–environment fit. It is critical in examining tension or friction in the lives of veterans that we not resort to victim blaming and instead take a critical look at the community within which they are operating. Seymour Sarason (1974) introduced us to the idea of psychological sense of community and its effects on an individual's well-being. This seems commonsensical to members of the military, who understand the value of a shared mission and unit cohesion when it comes to efficient and effective operations. What happens to our veterans, then, when they return home?

Attending an event such as the Veterans Stand Down offers an opportunity to return to a space where shared meanings and social cohesion abound. For a brief time, the ecology of the veteran is altered. This is essential and has real implications for the individuals who attend, but it is temporary. Although the Stand Down has an ameliorative effect, we must push for transformation (Nelson & Prilleltensky, 2010) . It is imperative that we build competent communities that address the unique needs of military service members, veterans, and their families. It is widely understood that there is a need to bridge the gap between civilians and military. For military psychologists operating in the community, as researchers or clinicians, an acute awareness of the power that we hold to assist in this process is crucial. More projects must be developed to facilitate the development of sense of community, social cohesion, and psychological well-being. The ultimate goal, however, is to create an environment in which we can, once and for all, tell our veterans to “Stand Down.”

Find a Stand Down event near you.

About the Author

Jessica Kelley Morgan is a graduate student in the Psychology in the Public Interest program at North Carolina State University and wife of a veteran of both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jessica Kelley Morgan, North Carolina State University, 640 Poe Hall, Campus Box 7650, 2310 Stinson Drive, Raleigh, NC 27695-7650.

References

Kelly, J. G. (1966). Ecological constraints on mental health services. American Psychologist , 21 , 535–539. doi:10.1037/h0023598

Nelson, G. B., & Prilleltensky, I. (2010). Community psychology: In pursuit of liberation and well-being . New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Sarason, S. B. (1974). The psychological sense of community: Prospects for community psychology . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Trickett, E. J., Kelly, J. G., & Todd, D. (1972). The social environment of the high school: Guidelines for individual change and organizational development. In S. Golann & C. Eisdorfer (Eds.), Handbook of community mental health (pp. 361–390). New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.