Over the past six months I have had the pleasure of working with The Bush Institute’s Military Service Initiative leading up to a national veterans convening entitled Stand-To, held in Washington D.C. last week. I was honored to be provided the opportunity to join President and Mrs. Bush, VA Secretary Shulkin, as well as key leaders from across the public, private, non‐profit, and philanthropic sectors to outline key priorities and an action plan to drive improved outcomes for veterans and their families.
The convening focused on three key priorities for veterans; education, employment, and health & wellbeing. While planning for the event, I was selected to co-chair the Health & Wellbeing Task Force, along with Terri Tanielian (Senior Behavioral Scientist, RAND) and J.J. Pinter (Executive Director, Team RWB). Leading up to the event we co-authored a blog, “Veteran Health & Wellbeing Should be a Top Priority,” while bringing together nearly 50 executive leaders from different organizations to understand their key issues and priorities.
Through a deliberate and spirited process, we built consensus on a vision and strategic objectives for health & wellbeing, outlined below.
Empower our military members, veterans, families, and caregivers to thrive across four dimensions: Physical Health; Mental and Emotional Health; Community and Relationships; and Purpose and Identity.
#1: Elevate Health & Wellbeing: Elevate health and wellbeing to be on par with education and employment initiatives to ensure overall veteran wellness across all sectors while integrating wellness efforts with education/training and employee efforts and initiatives.
#2: Modernizing VA: Improving VA healthcare system through enhanced public-private partnerships, realigned authorities and regulations, improved policies, and expanded outreach efforts.
#3: Address Knowledge Gaps: Address knowledge gaps through improved data sharing and increased research on veterans’ wellness and evaluations of program efficacy and effectiveness.
#4: Improve Integration: Improve integration, coordination, and quality of efforts across all sectors by elevating best practices and building upon lessons learned and enhancing community based collaborative efforts.
As moderator of the Health & Wellbeing Panel during the Stand-To, I reported on these findings while facilitating a broader discussion with four key leaders in our community: Harriet Dominique (Senior VP, Corporate Responsibility & Community Affairs, USAA), Jack Hammond (Executive Director, Home Base Program), Spencer Kympton (President, The Mission Continues), Terri Tanielian (Senior Behavioral Scientist, RAND Corporation; Bush Institute Fellow; Task Force Co-chair).
You can watch our entire panel discussion here:
It was an honor to moderate such an important discussion with such tremendous panelists. The entire day was full of productive conversations to include President Bush providing inspiration and humor during his opening remarks and hearing the VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin, make news when he said, “our system incentivizes disability, when our system should be incentivizing health and well-being.”
For me, the most powerful moment took place just minutes before the formal program began. Seeing my friends Will Reynolds, Brennan Mullaney and Mark Erwin was that moment. The four of us have a common connection; we are all members of Team Red, White and Blue — the national organization with the mission of enriching the lives of veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity. Team RWB is also the fastest growing veteran non-profit adding thousands of new members to their rolls each week.
And while the mission of RWB is critical, and the stats are remarkable for me Team RWB changed my life. They are my family. Volunteering and then leading and growing the chapter in my hometown of Alexandria, VA gave me purpose when I felt I didn’t have one. They provided me the opportunity to build genuine and trusted relationships with people in my community and ultimately improved my physical, mental and emotional health.
In short, Team RWB and friends like Will, Mark, Brennan and so many others helped me reach a level of health and wellbeing I hadn’t experience since serving in the military. By joining Team RWB I received a hand up, not a hand out, and empowered me and my family to thrive. It was this reminder that I needed and ultimately what became the biggest take away from such a remarkable event.