Service members, veterans and their families in Montgomery County now have access to the first website dedicated to coordinating local resources, care and support for county residents.
“The official name for the program is Serving Together: Troops, Veterans and Family Care Project, a project of the Mental Health Association (MHA) of Montgomery County,” said Jessica Fuchs, project director for Serving Together. “We want the military and veteran community to know what Montgomery County can do for them. We want to let them know that there are community-based organizations that can help them that they may have never considered.”
Studies with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Census Bureau have estimated there are 50,000 veterans in Montgomery County, in addition to their family members, said Fuchs. The website, www.servingtogetherproject.org, launched late last year and provides members of the military and other county residents with direct access to information regarding local organizations.
“It is a great resource for families and service providers on the installation (Naval Support Activity Bethesda), to know how the community can be a safety net and provide these additional resources to them. This can help to supplement what the DOD (Department of Defense) already has in place for that family,” said Fuchs.
A military spouse herself, Fuchs is married to a Marine who has served four overseas deployments throughout his 10 year military career.
“I was there to experience three of the four deployments, so it gives me a passion for this line of work and an understanding of what veterans and family members experience,” said Fuchs. “What we do every day here, pushing the awareness and education for the community, means a lot to us because we’ve experienced it from the other side and we know what value it can bring to the community.”
Many Montgomery County residents have experienced unique challenges as service members, veterans or family members.
“When my son was killed in Iraq nearly eight years ago, I had nowhere local to turn for help,” said Lee Ann Doerflinger, mother of Army Spc. Thomas Doerflinger, who was killed in action on Nov. 11, 2004, in Mosul, Iraq. “Community support was lacking. This new website will provide valuable resources and information to the community, military members and their families, including families of the fallen.”
Fuchs said there is a wealth of resources available in Montgomery County, if you know where to look.
“The website is a resource hub, so it is divided into different service categories such as employment, mental health services, transition, benefits assistance, etc.,” she said. “It offers many guides that are tailored for active duty, service providers, veterans or family members and act like a how-to guide for that topic.”
In the future, the Serving Together website will post continuing education events for healthcare providers and mental health professionals, such as those who work at Naval Support Activity Bethesda, said Fuchs.
“We have an education component, including a course called Mental Health First Aid,” said Fuchs. “It’s a $120 course, but (MHA is) offering it for free for military families, veterans, and those who work with them. We talk about early signs and symptoms of mental health and what to do in the case of a crisis and how to intervene.”
The Serving Together project currently operates as a four-year pilot program in Montgomery County, with hopes to take it national over the next few years, said Fuchs.
In addition to the Serving Together project, MHA offers 10 direct service programs for people with a wide range of experiences. For more information, visit www.mhamc.org.