Lewis and Clark County makes strides to become ‘Military Strong’
By Jess Hegstrom
Lewis and Clark Public Health
Civilians in Lewis and Clark County, MT are stepping up to educate themselves on how to support the military community through an effort known as the Military Strong Challenge.
In the hope of creating lasting, impactful change, Lewis and Clark Public Health (LCPH) has called upon these community partners, including businesses, nonprofits, and other institutions, to join the effort.
Engaging community partners is a concept that is widely embraced by public health agencies and guides us in efforts to generate collective impact and improve social determinants of health.
In the case of our thousands of service members, veterans and their families who call the county home, LCPH turned to the PsychArmor Institute to improve local supports for those who serve. Just shy of 8 percent of Americans have ever donned a military uniform, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In Lewis and Clark County, our veteran population is closer to 12 percent.
The Military Strong Challenge utilizes PsychArmor’s Veteran-ready Certification courses to educate non-military people about military basics, such as how to have a meaningful conversation with a veteran. The Military Strong project began on Memorial Day.
Part cultural-competency training and part social media challenge, the campaign aims to support our military community by building the civilian community’s ability to engage effectively with them and meet their unique needs. In turn, we hope this might help to reduce the unacceptable suicide rate among this population.
Organizations that accept the challenge to participate in these courses and then challenge others via email or Facebook.
So far, 10 local organizations have joined the Military Strong movement: Lewis and Clark Public Health, Montana Joining Community Forces, the Center for Mental Health, PureView Health Center, the Fort Harrison Risk Reduction Team, Lewis and Clark County, United Way of the Lewis and Clark Area, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Helena & Great Falls, Most Wanted Real
Estate, and Western Montana Mental Health Clinic- Helena Services. By the time the challenge ends on Veterans Day, we hope to see dozens more answer the call.
To meet the challenge, at least half of the employees of these organizations must complete the following four certification courses within a month:
Courses for businesses focus more on employers and how to support veterans in the workplace:
● 15 Things Veterans Want you to Know
● Hiring and Retaining Veterans, National Guard and Reserve Personnel
● Supporting Veterans, Family Members and Wounded Warrior Caregivers with Flexible Work Options
● Supporting a Veteran in Crisis
Agencies that meet the challenge will be awarded a variety of incentives, including window clings for their offices identifying them as “Military Strong.”
Other potential participants include schools; local government; health and mental health care professionals; faith-based institutions; emergency responders; and nonprofit, civic, and volunteer organizations.
While challenges will come over social media from organizations that have completed the Military Strong challenge, anyone else interested in participating is welcome to sign up.
After the challenge is completed, our partner, Montana Joining Community Forces, will distribute a passport booklet of participating organizations to service members, veterans and their families. They will receive a stamp from each they visit. Then, submitted booklets will be entered into a drawing for a grand prize. JCF will hold the drawing during its annual Christmas Dinner.
The goal here is to ensure that those who served know who in the community stepped up for our local heroes.
About the author:
Jess Hegstrom is suicide prevention coordinator for Lewis and Clark Public Health and facilitator of the Lewis and Clark Suicide Prevention Coalition. The Military Strong Campaign is a project of the coalition in conjunction with the PsychArmor Institute and the Helena Mayor’s Challenge Work Group to reduce suicide among veterans.