As AOTA President, I have the privilege and honor of representing the occupational therapy profession at awesome events. None has been more impressive than the Twenty-sixth Annual Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy. And no theme could have resonated more deeply with my soul than this year’s “A Veteran’s Journey Home: Reintegrating our National Guard and Reservists into Family, Community and Workplace.”
As the wife of a Vietnam veteran and as an occupational therapist, I have been very motivated to ensure occupational therapy professionals are part of the workforce that helps those who put themselves in harm’s way to reclaim their lives and live them to the fullest when they come home.
I think you probably know the statistics and why we are so needed to help out. Ron Capps, who was a symposium speaker and is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, serving in the Army and the Army Reserve, wrote in an article called “The New Lost Generation” in Foreign Policy magazine: “Rand Corp. now estimates that about 20 percent of returning veterans either have or will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The suicide rate in the Army is out of control: During the first half of 2009, more American soldiers committed suicide than were killed in combat. In June, an average of one soldier a day committed suicide. A couple of years ago, just after I completed my second deployment, I came close to killing myself, too.”
Keynote Speaker Patrick Kennedy echoed this concern, noting that 1.7 million troops have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq—and that it’s a win for the terrorists when an American soldier takes his or her life. He summoned all of us to get behind our returning warriors.
Finally, I was heart-struck to hear from Nina Berman, a freelance documentary photographer whose images of wounded warriors were presented in the opening session. She knew all about occupational therapy because so many of the soldiers she had photographed told her their stories, and a frequent theme was the way in which occupational therapists at Walter Reed and other military hospitals had given them hope.
I will never forget this amazing event, and pledge to work hard to address the societal need it put front and center. Our profession has grown in wartimes and traditionally been key to enabling the reintegration of soldiers. This summer, I was surprised to learn that the beautiful Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, California, had a thriving occupational therapy program for returning warriors who had served in the Navy during World War II. I am imagining what a comparable program would look like today. I’d love to hear what you think.
Yes, working with reintegrating our soldiers would be an honor. The Veterans Administration is hiring occupational therapists and assistants.
After hearing a presentation from a military OT at the AOTA conference in Orlando as well as in OTAC, I have nothing but respect for OT's who are working in this field. After all, even though skill is important, the ability to be flexible and adaptive are even more important.
I encourage our occupational therapy profession to embrace this opportunity to work with the Veterans Administration to provide reintegration support to our returning veterans.
I'm currently on Level II fieldwork in a rehab for Vietnam and other veterans (VA hospital). It's so humbling working with people who have sacrificed their lives for our country. It's also a great opportunity to simultaneously practice psychosocial interventions (for PTSD), phys dis interventions (for their current rehab goals), while facilitating meaningful activity such as crafts.
It would be awesome to begin a program similar to Ahwahnee Hotel's, to help this inspiring population.
Thank you, President Clark, for the affirmation regarding our crucial role in this arena!
I respect the idea of supporting our returning soldiers with OT services, however these wars are wrong and illegal. The best way to support our soldiers is by doing everything we can to prevent these wars and bring our soldiers home ASAP. Not to mention the million plus civilians that have lost their lives. Again, I respect our veterans and their intentions, but we need to stop the killing, stop the trauma, and stop the war.
It was very nice seeing you at the Conclave in KY President Clark! A group of my friends and I from West Virginia University got a few pictures with you. I wanted to post them to your blog or send them to you but I do not know how and could not find any of your contact information. If you would like these pictures, feel free to email me at
Hope all is well.
Shelby Stoaks, OTS
I encourage all OTs to keep in mind not only the service members that we may work with, but also the family members that we undoubtedly have as our clients. So many family members are suffering in silence because they do not have a safe opportunity to discuss the stress of deployment and reintegration. Further, no professionals are better equipped than OTs to facilitate positive occupational role transitions and successful coping with the challenges brought about by military service. For those who think they do not have a role in this area because they do not work for the VA, many community practitioners are being faced daily with National Guard and Reserve service members and their families who are seeking care right in their own community/civilian-based healthcare organizations. Be aware of them and sensitive to their situations. OT has a powerful role for this group! Kudos to AOTA for taking a leadership role in bringing this issue forward.
I work with active duty soldiers that have been medivaced from over seas with mental health issues. It is my honer and duty (no matter what my political views are) to serve my brothers and sisters that have given so much "just doing there job". If ANYONE wants more information on working for the military and how to go about it PLEASE contact me. We need more therapists to assist in this growing need.