In October 2012, I wrote one of my very first blog entries for the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) on the topic of the American Red Cross and their support for military families. Seven years later and in honor of Military Family Appreciation Month, I want to take this opportunity to remind our readers of this very special organization and the great work that the American Red Cross carries out daily in support of America’s military and Veteran families.
I had a very personal experience with support from the American Red Cross while deployed in 2006 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. I had been on the ground for approximately one month when I received word from family back home that my mother had experienced a medical emergency and was in the hospital in critical condition. In addition to the fear I was experiencing, I also remember feeling overwhelmed and alone. Thankfully for me I had an amazing command unit and my First Sergeant knew to contact the Red Cross for assistance. Long story short, the Red Cross helped me get out of theatre in a timely manner so that I could be with my mother and family. My mother (who is doing very well, by the way) and I were recounting this event just recently and how we both are very grateful for the support our family received from the Red Cross. Over the past 13 years, I have shared this story many times and know that I am just one of the many individuals who has been helped and positively impacted by this amazing organization.
Prior to deploying, I remember being informed about how the American Red Cross could assist Service members with emergency notifications and even shared their contact information with my family. However, it wasn’t until my own personal emergency that I learned just how much they do to support Service members, Veterans and their families. Today I want to share some of this information with you.
Per their mission statement, “the American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors” (https://www.redcross.org/about-us/who-we-are/mission-and-values.html). One thing that amazes me about the American Red Cross is that volunteers make up approximately 90 percent of their workforce! While their services are inclusive to all, the Red Cross also does a lot to provide humanitarian support specifically to Service members, Veterans, and their families. Red Cross staff members serve and support our military 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days per year, wherever they are around the world, across the United States, on installations overseas and even in certain deployed locations. The Red Cross has served more than 1 million military families since 9/11 (https://www.redcross.org/military-families.html) and has provided this support in many ways, including several that I will highlight below.
One of the things I appreciate about the Red Cross is the many services for military families throughout the deployment cycle. First of all, they have volunteers on bases and in military hospitals around the world allowing easy access when needed. They also have workshops, information, and support services to assist military families specifically with deployment related issues. They offer a Coping with Deployments Course that is appropriate for spouses, parents, siblings and significant others. The course helps families respond to the challenges they may encounter throughout the deployment cycle. They also have a Pre-Deployment Preparedness Tool for family members that covers topics such as communications, emergency preparedness, financial planning, legal affairs, and day-to-day guidance for those basic life annoyances such as who to call for repairs or assistance. The Red Cross plays a critical role in providing information about programs, services, and benefits available to support military families during deployments. The Red Cross can help with emergency notifications as well as help a family to connect with national and local agencies for support.
Post-deployment, the Red Cross offers Reconnection Workshops for both adults and children/teenagers in their local community. The adult workshop focuses on effective communication, healthy coping skills, emotional grit, defusing anger, connecting with kids, and how to recognize common reactions to trauma and seek help if needed. There is also a caregiver module that is appropriate for non-professional caregivers of wounded, ill and injured Service members and Veterans. The child/teen workshop focuses on improving communication skills and coping confidently.
The Red Cross works in partnership with military aid societies to help provide financial assistance for a variety of emergent needs to include emergency travel (as I shared above in my personal deployment emergency), emergency food and shelter, as well as for other urgent expenses. These services are available 24/7/365. Individuals who are eligible are: active duty Service members, activated National Guard or Reserve Service members, an immediate family member of an active duty or activated National Guard/Reserve Service member, as well as military retirees and spouses/widows of retirees.
Emergency Communication Services:
To reach the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Center you can either submit a request online at: https://www.redcross.org/military-information-referral-services.html or call their toll-free hotline at 1-877-272-7337. The American Red Cross engages its network of the Emergency Communications Center and offices across the United States and around the world to relay urgent messages 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to Service members and their command, anywhere in the world, including to ships at sea, embassies and remote locations. You can also download for free their Hero Care App that allows you access many of their emergency and non-emergency resources.
Holiday for Heroes:
The Holidays for Heroes program (previously known as the Holiday Mail for Heroes program) is another way the Red Cross helps support our Service members. This program has changed over time to meet the changing footprint of our US military forces and to allow the program the flexibility to meet the needs of the community. Please note that there is no longer a PO Box to which cards are sent. Rather, individuals interested in participating can contact their local Red Cross office for details and to find ways they can support Service members during the holiday season.
The Red Cross provides a variety of services specific to Veterans to include volunteering in Veterans Affairs (VA) and military hospitals, providing referrals to community resources, and assisting with Veterans claims for benefits. Red Cross volunteers support Veterans at VA medical facilities, providing programs and services to offer comfort and support for rehabilitation services. They also play a vital role in providing referrals to community resources. These referrals include services for emergency needs, referrals for counseling services, as well as other resources the meet the unique needs of Veterans.
In addition to these services, the American Red Cross can assist with Veterans claims for benefits to include helping with preparing and developing claims as well as assisting and representing Veterans if they are seeking to appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.
I would love to hear from others who have stories regarding how the American Red Cross supported them or other military or Veteran families. To find out more about the American Red Cross and how it supports military families please go to https://www.redcross.org/about-us/our-work/military-families.html. Additionally, if you have been thinking about ways you can support military families in your community, there may be a Red Cross volunteer job out there for you. Check out how you can become a Red Cross volunteer at: https://www.redcross.org/volunteer/become-a-volunteer.html.
The opinions in CDP Staff Perspective blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science or the Department of Defense.
Lisa French, Psy.D., is the Chief of Staff at the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences (USU) in Bethesda, Maryland.