Larry LaRue

Larry LaRue: Give An Hour seeks help for – and from – Tacoma-area veterans

Barbara Van Dahlen
Barbara Van Dahlen Courtesy

After watching the horror that was 9/11, clinical psychologist Barbara Van Dahlen felt compelled to help.

“There was so much suffering, I wanted to do something as a psychologist,” Van Dahlen said.

It was an inspiration that took four years to become reality.

Give An Hour, a nonprofit mental health organization she created near her Washington, D.C., home, was founded in September 2005 to serve military veterans and their families. It refers them to specialists in mental health, housing, education and family counseling.

Given the hoops she had to jump through, the bureaucracy she had to deal with along the way, what she wanted most was to make sure veterans didn’t face the same complications.

“I wanted a system that would put veterans in touch with those who could serve their needs,” she said, “and I wanted to keep it simple.”

On Tuesday, Van Dahlen was at the American Lake Veterans Golf Course in Lakewood, where she was handed one of those larger-than-life checks for $800,000. It will ensure Give An Hour has a three-year presence in Tacoma.

United Health Foundation donated $1.6 million to be split between Tacoma and Houston. Give An Hour had been operating in Washington, D.C., Detroit and throughout North Carolina.

Army vet Jim Martinson of Puyallup is glad to see Give An Hour arrive in Pierce County.

“I lost both legs above the knees in Vietnam in 1968,” Martinson said. “I’d graduated from Sumner High School, dropped out of college and been drafted.

“Vietnam was a different experience than the post-9/11 veterans have had. I was hurt when someone stepped on a landmine close enough to me to blow off one leg and sever most of the other. I spent nine months in the hospital.

“There weren’t groups like Give An Hour then. In that war, you went to Vietnam, spent 13 months and then came home to your old job, if it was still there.”

Martinson is new to the Give An Hour concept, but likes that it involves volunteerism among vets.

“I don’t care how much money you have, giving back is something special,” Martinson said. “It just feels so good.”

Giving back is the central premise of Van Dahlen’s organization and its three-step system.

“The first step is to build the network with volunteer mental health professionals,” she said. “Nationwide, we have close to 7,000 licensed mental health professionals, and we’ve provided 163,000 hours of care and support.”

All of it is free to veterans and their families.

“The second step is to have a central site where the veteran who needs help – for whatever need they have – can find it,” Van Dahlen said. “We embrace communities like Tacoma that are already invested in their veterans.

“If there’s a group that works with homeless women veterans, we want to partner with it, make it more accessible to those in need.”

Step two, simply put, is where the veteran finds help and takes advantage of it, at no cost.

Step three?

“Find a way to give back,” Van Dahlen said. “My dad served in World War II, lied about his age to join the Navy. He was hurt in the Pacific, and we think he spent his time recuperating here in the Northwest. He just wouldn’t talk about it.

“My dad would much rather serve than be served, and we make it possible for our vets to give back, but only if they want to.”

The Give An Hour website lists opportunities to do so, whether for an hour or for years.

“There are a lot of organizations looking for volunteer help, and we see veterans who get involved in transporting other vets, in working at soup kitchens.”

Online, volunteers can sign up to blog, create social media illustrations, take photographs, work at public events.

Martinson, an avid golfer, spends hours each week volunteering at American Lake between rounds of golf.

“What attracts me to Give An Hour is the way they get the veteran help, and then give them the chance to give back in any way they’d like,” Martinson said. “They seem to be able to keep it that simple.”

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