Thank You for Your Service

By David Shapiro

Thank You For Your Service, the 2016 documentary by Tom Donahue, opened my eyes to the mental trauma that our military veterans can fall victim to. Among the shocking realities highlighted by the film is that 20 veterans take their own lives every day in the United States. Thank You for Your Service goes beyond the statistics to reveal the failed mental health policies within the U.S. military.

It is a privilege for Family & Children’s Service in Ithaca to share this important movie with our community and participate in advocacy for improved mental health care for our veterans and active service men and women. The screening of Thank You For Your Service at Cinemapolis on May 17-18 is sponsored through Family & Children’s Pamela and Robert Swieringa Education Center, carrying on a tradition we began last year in using cinema as a powerful public educational platform during Mental Health Awareness Month.

Thank You for Your Service features all manner of players and experts discussing the mental health crisis in the U.S. military, including former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, ex-CIA chief David Petraeus, and war correspondents like Sebastian Junger and Dexter Filkins. But most importantly, the film gives voice to the voiceless veterans themselves. The Hollywood Reporter aptly summarized the story in its review of Thank You for Your Service:

The interview subjects all agree that the Defense Department and the Veterans Administration have not sufficiently attended to veterans’ mental health needs, and the problems they cite are numerous. Among them are bureaucratic inefficiencies, lack of funding, the overprescribing of psychotropic medications, a lack of qualified therapists, and extended tours of duty that result in soldiers serving far longer than they bargained for.

But it’s not the expert commentary, as illuminating as it is, that gives the film its power. Rather, it’s the handful of veterans who discuss their emotional struggles, both while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and after their discharge. One describes watching his best friend being burned alive, while another relates how he felt so guilty over civilians killed as a result of his actions that he attempted to find their family members to apologize. They talk about suffering from nightmares and PTSD; resorting to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain; and, in one case, playing Russian roulette.

Thank You for Your Service has won awards, but its producers are determined to achieve something else: change. They are urging movie-goers to take action in support of a proposed Behavioral Health Corps in the armed services that would focus on addressing critical mental health needs.

“If the public takes one message away from this film: reach out to your member of congress and request that they support a behavior health corps in the military,” says Daniel Rice, president of the Thayer Leader Development Group. “That will be the best action that they can take to help address the plague of suicides that our veterans are suffering.”

David Shapiro is chief executive officer of Family & Children’s Service in Ithaca

Cinemapolis Program Details:

May 17: Film at 6:30 p.m., Panel Discussion at 8:30 p.m.

May 18: Film at 7 p.m.

Also in Mental Health Awareness Month:

Family & Children’s Service Annual Celebration

Honoring:

Adga Osborn Award recipient Joan Jacobs Brumberg

Family Partner of the Year Serendipity Catering

Volunteer of the Year Bert Odom-Reed

Guest Speaker:

Karl Pillemer

Director of Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research.

Tuesday May 16

8-9:30 a.m.

Ithaca Country Club

189 Pleasant Grove Road

Click here to purchase tickets

Talking About Resilience

The Sophie Fund attended the Annual Meeting and Celebration of the Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca on May 19.

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Building resilience was the theme of remarks by Greg Eells, director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Cornell University, and David Shapiro, F&CS’s president and CEO. Here are Shapiro’s remarks:

I’d like to spend a few minutes talking with you about some of the work being done at Family and Children’s Service. Last year I talked about meaningful connections and the relationship that exists between meaningful connections and happiness. Having people in your life you can trust is also an important part of being able to bounce back when under duress, or soldier on when times are tough. What I’m talking about is resilience and how important it is for us to build relationships as a part of building resilience in ourselves.

I want to tell you about some of the different ways Family and Children’s Service is connected within the community in ways that help foster resilience.

First, with Cornell. Each year hundreds of students, faculty and staff come to F&CS seeking support. Our relationship with Cornell’s Student Health Center, Gannett, is so strong and longstanding that students seamlessly transition from receiving on campus services into our community based mental health clinic. As Gannett continues to expand their behavioral services­—to extend more access to their growing student base—I know that we too will be called upon to respond to those same needs.

Second with the United Way. Last year the United Way of Tompkins County provided $127,000 in annual support for our counseling, psychiatric and rural outreach services. Because of this support Family and Children’s Service` provides counseling and psychiatry services to people without insurance and, more often, under-insured clients with out of pocket costs that would otherwise be too significant to bear. The United Way also supports our rural outreach services which provide mentorship in rural communities to youth and adolescents in need of social, emotional and behavioral support.

More than a decade ago, Family and Children’s Service collaborated with Cayuga Medical Center and the Tompkins County Mental Health department to bring child psychiatry to our community. Alone, bringing this resource into Tompkins County demonstrated the importance of this connection. But together this partnership has meant so much more to our community, as vulnerable children are discharged straight from CMC’s behavioral unit, into F&CS’s mental health clinic ensuring the needs of these kids don’t fall through the cracks. Cayuga Medical Center has also been an important partner along with the City of Ithaca, Downtown Ithaca Alliance, Ithaca Renting Company and Tompkins County in providing outreach services in our downtown business district.

Tompkins County also enables F&CS to support some of the county’s most vulnerable youth by providing funds that support the specialized clinical and case management programs offered by F&CS that focus on improving social, emotional and behavioral development needed by:

—Children, younger than 5 years old often who have already been exposed to violence, addiction, poverty and despair.

—Adolescents and teenagers facing immediate mental health crises.

—And more youth and adolescents, at risk of being removed, running away from their home, or sometimes already having left and are now homeless.

—And aging adults, looking to strengthen their support system so that can age gracefully in their homes.

These are just examples of some of the important community connections that exist in order for F&CS to advance our mission. There are so many more.

Tompkins County is blessed with an abundance of community organizations and social supports for people in need. However, I want to challenge us to think about these services in a broader context that looks not just at whether the services exists, but also asks if there meaningful ways for these services to connect around a common good.

The truth is, in a fast paced, technologically driven world, many people are finding it more and more difficult to build meaningful connections and are forced to face the world alone. And just like each of us individually needs each other to support one another, as an organization we need to build connections too if we want give our clients the best chance at success.

To borrow a quote from Hellen Keller, “alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” Thank you for being here, together, with me today. Each time we come together around a common good, we grow as a community and are better prepared to face the challenges ahead of us.