RAPID CITY, S.D. – The South Dakota Coalition for Military Families hosted a providers symposium at Camp Rapid on Wednesday and Thursday. Approximately 80 professionals from the community participated in the event, bringing a wide variety of experts and supporters together for the common goal of supporting and caring for service members and their families.
The symposium was designed for professionals who want to learn to adapt their clinical skills to meet the needs of military veterans and their families. Participants from a wide variety of professions and organizations attended the symposium and participated in sharing and learning about the unique challenges of the military lifestyle, as well as learning what services are available or needed in the community to support those service members.
Participants included psychologists, physicians, allied-health professionals, social workers, counselors, substance abuse professionals, criminal justice professionals, chaplains, college faculty and veteran caregivers, and included organizations such as the Veteran’s Administration, Youth and Family Services, Pennington County, Black Hills State University, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Black Hills Regional Health and many other private care providers.
Opening remarks for the symposium were made by Lt. Gov. Matt Michels, Maj. Gen. Tim Reisch, South Dakota National Guard adjutant general, Col. Kevin Kennedy, commander of Ellsworth Air Force Base’s 28th Bomb Wing, and retired Command Sgt. Maj. Larry Zimmerman, secretary of Veteran’s Affairs for South Dakota.
The South Dakota Coalition for Military Families seeks to build connections and create partnerships across South Dakota to care for and support service members, veterans and military families. The symposium is sponsored by the Northeastern South Dakota Area Health Education Center and in cooperation between the South Dakota National Guard Service Member and Family Support and Ellsworth Air Force Base Airman and Family Readiness office.
“Our goal with the symposium is to create a network so any office can point a customer – be it a service member, a veteran or a family member – to the resources they need,” said Lt. Col. Brian Jacobson, director of SDNG’s Service Member and Family Support.
Rachel Haigh-Blume, event coordinator and executive director of the Northeast South Dakota Area Health Education Center, detailed the prime goal of her organization is to ensure that providers know they are dealing with veterans.
“We want to increase the asking of the question ‘have you served?’ by our providers, especially those who are geographically separated from military bases,” said Haigh-Blume. “We need to recognize those individuals so we can better understand their situations and better help them.”
Haigh-Blume also spoke to the goal of the coalition at the national level in reaching providers.
“Our goal is to educate 10,000 providers this year in topics such as post-traumatic stress, military culture, traumatic brain injury and asking ‘the question,’” said Haigh-Blume.
Participants were pleased with the overall content and presentation of the information.
“We have 12 Guardsmen about to return home from deployment and we want to learn how we can support and help them,” said Steph McCoy, of the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office human resources department. “I have gotten more out of the symposium than I expected.”
The variety of organizations that sent representatives also had their own ideas of how the topics at the symposium could better shape how they care for military families.
“I am here trying to learn how I can best serve the military children I work with,” said Jodi Burke, mental health therapist with Youth and Family Services. “I’d like to learn more about the military culture.”
Another goal of the coalition is to help the civilian providers learn to better interface with the military community.
“The community is intimidated by the organization, the culture of the military, so they don’t reach out to military members, “said Greg Jacobik, a contractor with National Guard Bureau. “We are building the bridge to the community to allow them to cross it and to engage the military members.”
A handful of the community providers also opted to participate in a half day of military immersion training, giving them the opportunity to understand more of the military culture from an inside perspective. They experienced initial-entry drill sergeants, eating a Meal, Ready to Eat ration and watching a military working dog demonstration, as well as being able to actively participate in training exercises such as a roll-over trainer, a virtual convoy-operations trainer and a virtual-shooting simulator.