This leadership journey starts with my brother. He joined the military at 18 and retired nearly three decades later as a Navy SEAL Commander. His re-entry into civilian life has been anything but smooth. Over the last 6 years he has gone through a variety of treatment programs to address a complicated diagnosis that adds up to a 100% disability. Most things didn’t work, but a few things did: connecting with animals, mindfulness and longitudinal support—as narrated in this compelling radio story.
A Striking Parallel
Interestingly, what was working for my brother was also working in our QUEST executive development programs that we have piloted over the last several years, namely animal-guided learning, situational awareness, and follow-up executive coaching. We asked ourselves: what if we designed a QUEST program specifically for combat veterans leaving the military?
I hit the internet to figure out how to be a vendor for the VA. That’s when I encountered the extraordinary multitude of resources available to veterans through the government, non-profit and for-profit sectors. Upon closer inspection, however, the majority of these programs stand alone as isolated initiatives, with no connection to what happened before or after in the veteran’s life. This pattern is echoed in the anecdotal evidence we’ve heard from other injured vets—that their post-military treatment has been disjointed and fragmented.
A Macro Approach
Another question materialized: what if a larger template was created to integrate multiple treatment modalities, i.e. a customized pathway for vets and their families that addresses physical, emotional and spiritual healing as well as financial and vocational skills.
I met with providers at a VA Hospital and a Vet Center. They agreed.
Currently the demobilization process consists of several days chock full of lectures and thick binders on transitioning back into civilian life. The information is good but it’s overwhelming and mostly landing on the deaf ears of soldiers fixated on getting home as soon as humanly possible.
Which raises another question: if mobilization takes weeks, months and even years in the case of Special Operations Forces, how could effective demobilization occur in a week? Put another way, if a deep sea diver doesn’t decompress from a dive properly and surfaces too quickly, they are at risk of getting very sick or even dying.
Soldiers emerging from the pressures of combat are no less at risk.
From the support perspective, having more time to work with vets once they were back in their own communities could make a world of difference. I was told this kind of shift in resource allocation would most likely require an Act of Congress.
Which begets yet another question: can a business and clinical case be made that it is more cost-effective to work with vets proactively for a year vs. reactively for the rest of their lives?
It Can All Add Up
What does any of this have to do with leadership? Well, it’s the biggest leadership challenge I am currently facing. With a family and career I love, how do I find time to make a difference here? Others have devoted their entire lives to making life even a little more tolerable for veterans suffering the true toll of war. At most, I can only invest three hours per week—what could that possibly add up to?
Unless my role is to share leadership by enabling others to lead, and to remove obstacles, including myself. This is also an exercise in managing boundaries so that this project doesn’t consume me or the other commitments I care about. I need to honor the clock if I am to continue with this work.
So what did I do with my three hours this week? I wrote this post to start the conversation!
If you want to join us in building the case, please click here to get in touch. All kinds of skillsets are needed: project management, grant writing, social media, videography, lobbying, accounting…if you have a skill and a passion, we can find a way to put it to work.
All together we just might bring about a seachange.
(photo by Clay Scott)
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