Report from 2009 Military Family Forum III 

Military Family Forum III: Army Families:  Forging a Stronger Future

            “How do we get soldiers and families access to the resources they need?”  Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz asked at the start of the third and last military family forum.

            Soldiers and their families can sometimes end up as isolated islands,even in
New York City, if they can’t connect with the programs orservices they need to thrive, Stultz, the chief of the Army Reserve, said.

            He credited his wife, Laura Stultz, whom he called “my hero,” with theidea of a virtual installation to bring resources to soldiers and their families.

            The first virtual installation center, the Army Strong Community Center, created for families that live great distances from military
installations, opened on Sept.12 in Rochester, N.Y.

Army Strong Community Center should really be called the Army Strong Community Connection Center,” Mrs. Stultz said at the Oct. 7 forum that is part of the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition.The goal of the centers, which are targeted at all military families, is building connections. There are plans under way to build five more pilot centers and continued service growth.

            Col. Kris Peterson, Army psychiatry consultant on children and
adolescents, illustrated the need to expand services for military
families in his presentation. He outlined the adverse impact that eight
years of war and multiple deployments have had on the mental health of
children from military families and the lack of sufficient mental health
services to help them.

            “Parents are no longer gone for months,” Peterson said, “but years, and we are now seeing increasing levels of anxiety and depression across all age groups.”

            Preschoolers show higher levels of aggression, and teenagers exhibit a lower threshold for emotional outbursts, in addition to increased anxiety and depression. The consequences of these adverse mental health changes are higher rates of failure in school and higher dropout rates.

            In 2003, 800,000 military children were seen by non-military outpatient mental health clinics. Last year, the number of children seen in non-military clinics reached 1.6 million. Peterson said that families
are turning to non-military mental health clinics because the military
mental health clinics are already saturated.

            The Military Child and Adolescent Center of Excellence (253-968-4723 or 253-968-4772) was founded in 2008 to help redress this imbalance by training more mental health providers since multiple deployments are ongoing. Its goal is to reduce stigma and promote health-seeking behaviors. Also, the Army is testing in both
Washington and Hawaii the Families Overcoming Under Stress (FOCUS) counseling program developed by the Navy,

            Tim Red, director of military programming for the National Fatherhood Institute,, described the need for military fathers to stay involved, responsible and committed to their children.

            “Think of a social ill,” Red said, “and it’s likely to be highly
correlated with fathers’ absence. The list includes poverty, school
failure, drugs, crime and suicide.

            Currently, there are 165,000 military fathers deployed, Red said, and they have 333, 000 children. The military needs to create more programs for fathers, Red said, to avert crises at home and prevent distracted fathers from serving military missions.

            “Soldiers respond when they’re told what is important. The more important fatherhood becomes to Army leadership, the more it will be important to soldiers,” he concluded.

            The second half of the last military family program focused on community involvement with the military. In 2007, the Army Community Covenant was launched to help promote military and community interaction. The number of communities that have signed the covenant at present is 250, and 200 more are new enrollees in the works.

            Four organizations described their commitment to the military community:

            The founder of Azalea Charities, Frank E. Lasch, Sr., spoke about the nonprofit’s dedication to wounded soldiers and their families. Azalea,>>, has already donated 28,000 comfort items and over 1 million phone minutes to them.

            “Tell us where the gaps are, and let us have the privilege and honor of filling them,” Lasch said.

            Matthew Wright, director of corporate and foundation relations at Scott and
Wright Memorial Hospital in Texas, said its project is to place mental health counselors in primary care clinics off base. The approach removes stigma, increases access and provides immediate assistance. The counseling is free and unlimited. The initial goal was to provide 900 counseling sessions in 24 months, but the project supplied 4,675 sessions in a little over 18 months, and is currently seeking more funding.

            Susan Agustin, who founded Operation Give a Hug and now works in partnership with the Army,, said that that the nonprofit has given away 150,000 dolls to date. The dolls have a plastic slot on their heads where the photo of the face of the deployed parent can be inserted and also have a hang tag that lists resources and contact info for military families.

            Daniel Nichols, executive director of the Military to Medicine Institute that is part of the INOVA Health System, >>, outlined the effort INOVA Health System,, is making to hire military talent. He said that the organization hired 20 military spouses last week and provides no-cost training for military family members who want to enter the healthcare field.

            Brig. Gen. Reuben  Jones, adjutant general, wrapped up the last forum by inviting all audience members to
follow him on Twitter at>> or
>> and to use the following Web sites for more information:


He also thanked
Sylvia Kidd, director of AUSA family programs, for
organizing the three forums, and she requested that all audience members complete the AUSA Family Member Survey,
that will help AUSA understand what hardships family members undergo during a deployment and the availability of TRICARE.

To see presentations from Military Family Fourm I, held on 7 October 2009, click here

By Susan M. Sipprelle
for AUSA