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Learn how organizations are supporting veterans this Veterans Day and beyond

Veterans Day is a federal holiday observed annually on November 11. It’s a tribute to all of those who have served in the U.S. armed forces on the anniversary of the end of World War I. As of 2021, there are around 19 million U.S. veterans, according to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs, representing less than 10% of the total U.S. adult population.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, research suggests that 11 to 20% of veterans experience PTSD in a given year — significantly higher than 2020 estimates for the general population at less than 4%. Additionally, suicide rates of military service members and veterans are also at an all-time high, with deaths by suicide having increased by 25% during 2020.

How can community recreation centers play a role in supporting veterans?

Daniel Reis, a clinical psychologist at the VA Rocky Mountain Mental Illness Research Education and Clinical Center for Suicide Prevention, led a literature review earlier this year to evaluate the results and quality of studies on the benefits of exercise for veterans with PTSD.

Based on preliminary evidence, the researchers determined that exercise has promise for reducing the severity of PTSD symptoms in veterans. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), Reis and his team saw reductions in the four primary symptom domains: re-experience, avoidance, thoughts and arousal.

While the VA would like more research on the topic, there is an opportunity for community centers to get America’s bravest moving and healing.

NASM released the following guidelines for designing exercise programs for clients with PTSD:

  • Focus on breathing. Teach mindful breathing and/or meditation to start and/or end a program.
  • Be repetitive. Repeat cues to help clients master moves while building confidence and self-efficacy.
  • Use noncompetitive language and practices. Keep in mind a competitive environment may activate the sympathetic nervous system, increasing stress levels.
  • Provide time for reflection. Help clients discover and develop self-awareness.
  • Be patient. Take it slow and steady, paying attention to clients’ reactions to each stage of the exercise program. Pull back when necessary.
  • Set realistic goals. Help clients figure out realistic fitness and health goals.
  • Remain flexible. Be ready to switch gears and calmly respond to challenges as they arise (i.e., loud sounds, damaged equipment, clients’ needs, etc.).
  • Be flexible with cues. Develop several different ways to say the same thing so that you have a backup cue or instruction if the first one doesn’t work.
  • Come prepared. If a client experiences an episode or a drastic mood change during a session, be ready to stop, talk and listen.
  • Be knowledgeable. Stay informed about your clients’ health. Learn about changes in medication or any incidences that have occurred since your last session. Adapt as needed.

If you are not ready to start a new program, you can still honor the veterans in your community this Veterans Day by offering discounts and events.

For example, many YMCAs – like the YMCA of Greater Rochester – are offering a zero-dollar join fees for veterans on November 11.

The YMCA of Bucks and Hunterdon Counties is honoring veterans with a Veterans Day Gathering, consisting of a brief ceremony with refreshments. The YMCA of South Florida partnered with the City of Weston to host a Veterans Day Breakfast on Veterans Day, including keynote speaker Daniel Cnossen, a U.S. Navy SEAL Lt. commander and six-time paralympic medalist.

The Bender JCC of Greater Washington is hosting the American Jewish Veterans Annual Veterans Day Program on November 13. Jewish War Veterans (JWV) will hold its annual Veterans Day program at the American Jewish Veterans Memorial, in front of the Bender JCC. The short program, commemorating the end of WW I, will feature speakers Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, Mr. Ken Greenberg, executive director of JWV, and more.

Another way to serve this population is through partnerships.

YogaSix partnered with Veterans Yoga Project (VYP) this year to give back to veterans through the mind-body experience of yoga. As part of the partnership, YogaSix becomes an ongoing sponsor of VYP and will host donation-based classes for the organization across its 160 studios across the country for Veterans Gratitude Week that runs November 4th to 13th.

For other veteran-inspired partnership ideas, look to the John W. Brick Mental Health Foundation (JWB Foundation).

The JWB Foundation supported the National Center for Healthy Veterans (NCHV) to provide programs and research surrounding their mission to “Return Healthy Veterans to America.”

NCHV helps veterans who are stuck in trauma or transition through a natural healing environment, community living to defeat isolation, dignified work to provide purpose, faith-based life skills and trauma recovery programs to regain mental and emotional balance, and career preparation to enable professional success.

Additionally, in 2018 the JWB Foundation funded a grant to the Catch-A-Lift Foundation to provide free Planet Fitness health club memberships to veterans suffering from combat-related mental health issues — and it continues to work with the organization’s director to assist these men and women.

The Catch-A-Lift Fund enables post-9/11 combat-wounded veterans throughout the U.S. to recover and rehabilitate both physically and mentally through physical fitness, motivation and support.

Overall, there are several avenues you can explore when supporting veterans who have served in your community. While Veterans Day is just one day in the year, you shouldn’t only consider special programs or partnerships in November. Exploring these options can open you up to a new population and help them improve both their physical and mental health.

Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown is the assistant editor of Community Rec Magazine. She can be reached at taylor@peakemedia.com.

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