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Collaboration is key to family support effort, official says

WASHINGTON -- Collaboration is at the heart of the government's new military family support directive and is the key to supporting service members and their families in the months and years ahead, a Defense Department official said Jan. 26.

"We clearly are trying to find in every agency in the government ways to collaborate and work together so that we can do the job better," John R. Campbell, deputy assistant secretary of defense for wounded warrior care and transition policy, told American Forces Press Service. "Everybody believes now that collaboration is the future; it's no longer going it alone."

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama unveiled a new, whole-of-government approach to military family support, with agencies uniting to create new resources and support programs for military families worldwide. From health care to child care to spouse employment, Obama announced the government has made nearly 50 commitments to improving families' quality of life, which are outlined in a White House Report, "Strengthening Our Military Families: Meeting America's Commitment."

Campbell highlighted a few of the collaborative efforts that fall under his purview: programs that foster families' well-being and help wounded warriors, service members and their families successfully transition from military to civilian life. His area is working closely, he added, with other agencies as well as with other offices within the Defense Department.

The Defense and Interior departments, for example, will work together to offer wounded warriors and their families opportunities to use Interior's lands and recreational facilities for recovery, Campbell said.

Through the use of its 500 million acres of public land and a host of recreational and educational programs, "the Interior Department will modify ongoing programs and services to accommodate military families, especially wounded warriors, in their efforts to regain psychological health, reintegrate with family and rehabilitate," the report said.

"The Department of Defense and Interior have a longstanding relationship," said Robert G. Stanton, senior advisor to the secretary for the Interior Department. "In fact, many historic military posts are preserved and managed by the U. S. Department of the Interior, so working to open these national treasures to our wounded warrior families is a natural fit."

Mr. Campbell said he recently visited the Interior Department to discuss collaborative efforts and programs with officials there and saw an overlay map of the department's physical resources.

Many are close to warrior transition units, he observed.

"There's a real easy link between the physical location of these warrior transition units and the physical plan of the Interior Department," he said.

The geography, he added, will help to foster and ease the path to collaborative efforts, such as programs for military children and employment opportunities for spouses and children on Interior lands.

Mr. Campbell also highlighted a new program in the works that's designed to help wounded warriors attain education and employment. DOD officials are working with the Labor and Veterans Affairs department officials to create a program that will help wounded warriors early on, he said, noting the importance of providing transition support within the first 30 to 60 days to avoid feelings of isolation.

"The program will start right away, as soon as they get into wounded warrior transition, with some education, assessments (and) we're linking up with mentors," he said. "It will give them the answers they need to help them make the transition back into their communities, back into academia or corporate life if that's where they want to go."

Also aimed at easing transitions, the Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs departments plan to revamp the Transition Assistance Program's employment workshop to include an "aggressive, hands-on, tailored work force readiness program for service members and their spouses," which includes employment assistance during moves, the report said, marking the first change to the workshop portion of TAP in 19 years.

Along with other agencies, Mr. Campbell noted the importance of collaborative efforts within DOD as well. His area, for example, is working closely with the Pentagon's Office of Military Community and Family Policy to create effective programs and initiatives.

Mr. Campbell also stressed the importance of community involvement as programs and initiatives evolve from the family-support directive. He praised ongoing efforts by Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to enlist communities in the Defense Department's efforts to ease reintegration for service members and their families.

Many grassroots organizations are doing great work already, he said. He highlighted the efforts of Barbara Van Dahlen, the founder of Give an Hour, which provides free mental health services to troops and their families impacted by war.

Ms. Van Dahlen, he explained, also has created a blueprint for how communities can get involved and help military families reintegrate back into society.

Another organization, called Still Serving Veterans, he added, is doing great work with housing, education, jobs and counseling assistance for returning service members in the Huntsville, Ala., area.

Enlisting the help of these organizations, agencies and other divisions within DOD will benefit families nationwide, he said.

"The government can't do it alone," he said. "We're foolish if we think we can try."