Making an Important Connection for Our Nation’s Heroes

May 05, 2017

Fall Service Day project with the Bethel School District, The Mission Continues, and Give an Hour's Tacoma Community Collaborative honoring the military parents who have given their lives in service to our country. (L to R) Shawn Durnen, installation regional coordinator, WDVA Conservation Corps, and South Sound 1st Service Platoon leader, The Mission Continues; Dug Lee, project coordinator, Give an Hour's Tacoma Community Collaborative; Shaida Hossein, assistant project coordinator, Give an Hour's Tacoma Community Collaborative; Jay Brewer, director, Community Connections, Bethel School District. (Photo: Shawn Durnen)

After serving multiple tours of duty in Iraq with the U.S. Army, Shawn Durnen returned to the U.S. and found it difficult to transition back to his former life. The loss of friends and mentors during his time in Iraq affected his mental health, yet he didn't seek help for years.

When Shawn eventually sought mental health care, he wasn't able to get the help he needed. "There was a disconnect between veterans and mental health providers because the providers had not served in the military," said Shawn.  A friend soon referred him to Give an Hour, an organization that provides free mental health services to military members, veterans and their families.

Give an Hour has developed a successful, community-based approach to address the challenges faced by our nation's heroes. For Shawn, the peer-to-peer counseling provided by Give an Hour was the help he was looking for. Importantly, the provider was a veteran, someone who could relate to Shawn's experiences. "The provider could give validating statements, like 'I can relate because I've been there or seen that,'" said Shawn.

Shawn also appreciated that, in the beginning, counseling could be conducted via teleconference. "For some veterans, it's hard to leave the house for simple errands," said Shawn.  "Everyday sounds or experiences can trigger post-traumatic stress, bringing back memories of experiences from deployments."

Thanks to therapy, tools and resources from Give an Hour, Shawn has been able to address his mental health needs and was motivated to become a Veteran Navigator at Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood, Wash., and help others. Through Shawn's work at Clover Park Technical College, he connected with the local Give an Hour team.

A staunch advocate for Give an Hour, Shawn has helped increase awareness of the provider network and resources in the local Tacoma community. He has helped many fellow soldiers reintegrate into civilian life, and he's expanded his advocacy to local community colleges and school districts, sharing Give an Hour resources, hosting education forums and connecting veteran students and community members with Give an Hour providers.

In one school district, Shawn co-organized a beautification service day project with The Mission Continues and Give an Hour's Tacoma Community Collaborative, providing an opportunity for community youth and administrative staff in Bethel School District to connect and honor the Bethel military parents who gave their lives in service. He also co-founded the nonprofit Nine9Line, and helps plan an annual veterans' resource fair.

Organizations like Give an Hour and volunteers like Shawn are making a difference in the lives of our nation's heroes as they return to civilian life.  As we mark Military Appreciation Month, UnitedHealth Group is honored to work with groups like Give an Hour to help support our nation's heroes. Together, we're helping raise awareness of agencies and organizations that provide culturally competent counseling to service members, veterans and their loved ones and grow its mental health care provider network.

Learn more here.