The 2017 Voice Awards focusing on military and veteran communities struck a chord with me. As a retired captain in the Navy Reserve and the spouse of a U.S. Marine, I know what life in this community is like. I understand the realities, complexities, joys and hardships. But most importantly, I know how resilient this community is. We truly find strength in each other.
At this year’s Voice Awards, I had the opportunity to honor an exemplary group of community champions and entertainment professionals. Through their work and personal stories of resilience, the Voice Awards honorees inspire hope through their efforts to increase understand of behavioral health issues, and make it easier for individuals and families to seek help.
Major General (Ret.) Mark & Carol Graham lost both of their sons within 8 months of one another. Kevin Graham, an ROTC cadet at the University of Kentucky, died by suicide in June 2003. Jeffrey Graham, a second lieutenant in the Army, died in February 2004 while protecting his platoon from a roadside bomb in Iraq. In the wake of these tragedies, the Grahams began speaking out and sharing their story with the hope that this would encourage more soldiers and young people to seek the help they need, and help other families who are experiencing pain.
“The Warfighters,” an A&E Network television mini-series, employed 90 veterans on both sides of the camera. This production features first-person accounts of U.S. Special Operations Forces missions in the global war on terror. Veterans and their family members provide an accurate account of the environment that service members must operate in, and the challenges they face as a result. Through their personal stories, the show’s writers and producers felt strongly that, “if we could save just one person by telling these stories, then it would all be worth it.”
SAMHSA Special Recognition Award recipient Senator Elizabeth Dole made a difference by using her foundation to support 5.5 million military caregivers. She raised public awareness, promoted research, and supported families. Through the Foundation’s Hidden Heroes initiative, Senator Dole created a platform to tell caregivers’ stories, including the challenges and long-term needs that they face.
So what’s our next mission? Together, we can continue to lead by example, in television and film productions and on the ground. If someone who is struggling can see fellow service members and veterans talking about their needs and accessing help, it can open the door for others to do so as well. It’s important that they know they are not alone. We have tremendous tools at our disposal. Today, I want to challenge each of us to think differently about the experiences of service members, veterans, and their families. Let’s work towards supporting all their needs, including the ones we can’t see.