Each summer, professionals, academics, politicians and individuals from every other aspect of society converge in Aspen, Colorado to discuss the pressing issues facing the world today. The Aspen Institute Ideas Festival is a premier opportunity to discuss, debate and absorb information from industry leaders with the intent of disseminating new knowledge and insight around the world. This year, I was honored to represent Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) at the Spotlight Health portion of the Ideas Festival, to provide insight on the unique challenges facing today’s veteran community.
My panel focused heavily on the failures of current programs to prevent and address high occurrences of issues such as homelessness, mental health concerns and unemployment within the veteran population. With such a broad topic, I struggled with how best to highlight the failures and successes of veteran care and services with a group largely unfamiliar with the topic. During my time in Aspen, I spoke with a festival attendee who had never met a veteran from the current conflicts. Without any prior discussion, her first question to me was, “And you’re okay?” — bluntly asking if I faced any of the concerns the panel was set to discuss. In that moment I decided the panel needed to not only look at the need for necessary, vital and useful solutions to the issues, but also present a dialogue that showcased the strength and resilience veterans bring to communities.
I was joined on the panel by two leading professionals in veteran health care, Shelly MacDermid Wadsworth and David Riggs, with Dave Chokshi as a moderator. The panel discussed the failures and challenges in health care services for returning veterans, with particular attention paid to the need for adequate mental health care support and the intricacies of treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The panel also discussed concepts such as the importance of private health care providers to gain basic military and veteran competencies, recognizing the diverse and dynamic makeup of the veteran population and the unique strengths brought by veterans to the workplace and communities.
Following the panel, several of the individuals who attended approached the panel and expressed gratitude in gaining new insight on how they could better serve and understand the needs and realities of the veteran population, which is one step closer to providing a comprehensive, veteran-centric approach to the challenges and triumphs veterans experience. I sincerely hope the Aspen Institute continues to value the voice of veterans in their commitment to inspire thought to action as it is a necessary voice more need to hear.