The Soldiers Project, Los Angeles
The Soldiers Project website
Bob Filner, Member of Congress, United States House of Representatives
Col. Joseph Smith, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.), Director, Department of Military and Veterans Affairs Los Angeles County
Dr. Judith Broder established a network of volunteer therapists to offer free, confidential treatment to veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and their families, helping heal the "hidden wounds" of combat.
Six years ago, at age 64, Judith Broder was cutting back on her clinical psychiatry practice. She had plans to spend time traveling with her husband, Donald, who was "tugging at me to retire."
But then the couple chanced to walk along an ocean pier near their Los Angeles home just as a veterans’ group was putting up hundreds of little white crosses in the sand, commemorating deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Broder was stunned by the enormity of the losses. Rather than retire as planned, she soon embarked on a new career as founder of The Soldiers Project, a pioneering nonprofit that provides free mental health care for veterans and their families.
In recent years, thousands of combat veterans have been coming home from missions in Iraq and Afghanistan with what Broder calls "hidden wounds," including post-traumatic stress disorder, brain injuries, anxiety, sleeping problems, and depression. Left untreated, these emotional troubles can lead to more visible problems, such as child abuse, car crashes, crime, and suicide.
Broder says, "It's important to call them 'wounds.' They're no less serious than losing an eye or leg."
To address this broadening crisis, The Soldiers Project has rapidly grown into a network of 700 volunteer mental health professionals, who have provided close to 10,000 hours of care to 900 veterans in six California counties, as well as New York, Boston, Seattle, and Chicago. The therapy is free and completely confidential, lasting as long as the clients need it.
Veterans are not the only ones to benefit; one third of the project's clients are family members and partners of the soldiers, who are often unprepared for the challenges their loved ones face upon returning from war. The project's therapists also conduct public lectures to raise awareness about veterans’ mental health issues.
Broder explains, "For every returning veteran, there's a family behind them that is affected in some way."
A 2008 Rand Corporation survey found that one in five recent U.S. veterans reported symptoms of major mental illness. But Broder thinks the true rate is much higher, saying many veterans fear the stigma attached to asking for help and worry that their records won't be kept confidential.
The Soldiers Project offers a special safety net, even as it collaborates with the military to keep reaching out to veterans in need. A group of therapists routinely attend yellow-ribbon events run by the National Guard, for instance, to get the word out about the project's services. Military members have also helped train the project's therapists in understanding the culture of the armed forces.
California is now home to some 160,000 recent veterans, more than in any other state, and this population is bound to increase as the military winds down the war in Afghanistan.
For her compassionate, effective program to provide mental health counseling to veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and their families, Dr. Judith Broder is the recipient of a 2011 James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award.
Video by Talking Eyes Media
Dr. Judith Broder