“My biggest goal was just getting here, but knowing other Vets were here made it easier for me.” Brian is an Army reservist who attended an Operation Purple Healing Adventure® (OPHA) in the Poconos, Pennsylvania.
OPHA is a program of the National Military Family Association (NMFA) that brings currently serving and veteran military families together in some of America’s most beautiful landscapes. These families share more than their experiences of deployments and years served; families at Healing Adventures are trying to find their “new normal” after their service member’s injury.
For many, getting there is half the battle.
Between struggles at home, and battling visible and invisible injuries—like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury—day-to-day activities often feel like insurmountable obstacles. But bonding with other families facing some of the same challenges offers a unique perspective.
While at Healing Adventures, families participate in activities and focus groups designed to encourage resiliency and reconnection. Activities are offered for all skill levels, from canoeing, to arts-and-crafts, to making S’mores around the campfire.
“Our family is finally starting to do things outside of VA appointments. We have to push ourselves to meet new people and find friendships outside of our family unit,” Andrea, an Army spouse, shared. “I met some of my best friends through a caregivers group, and coming to this Healing Adventure gave us the opportunity to find other people who ‘get it’.”
In addition to activities carefully designed to support resiliency-building, communication, and parenting skills, licensed mental health professionals attend each Healing Adventure to provide support to families discussing their individual challenges.
Each year, more service members return from war with battle wounds that will follow them for a lifetime, and these injuries affect everyone in the family. Studies show separations, injuries, and adjustments cause stress and feelings of uncertainty in today’s military children, who then exhibit higher rates of inner tension, anxiety, behavioral problems, and depression.
The challenges of continued separation, plus coping with the injury of a parent, intensify the need for specialized support to create stronger emotional foundations for military children and families.
Advocacy and support for military families has been the mission of the National Military Family Association for nearly five decades. From its humble beginnings as a group of military spouses around a kitchen table, to the organization it is today, NMFA continues to strengthen and empower our nation’s families and veterans through its programs. NMFA has awarded over $4M in scholarships and professional development funds to military spouses who often put their education and careers on hold to support their service member. They’ve also sent more than 60,000 military and veteran family members to camps or retreats as part of the Operation Purple Program: Healing Adventures, Family Retreats, and week long summer camps for kids.
“My deployments have kept me from doing things with my family,” said Ryan, a former Army National Guard member. “Operation Purple Healing Adventures gave us a reason to forget the day-to-day grind, have a good time, and do things together as a family.”
This Veterans Day, remember those military families who have served and sacrificed. Think about the former service members trying to reenter the civilian world to make a difference; consider the military family navigating life after a service-related injury; appreciate their sacrifice and encourage their success.
Though getting to camp was half the battle for those wounded, ill, or injured participants at Healing Adventures, having a strong family unit take those steps alongside them is what makes the journey worth taking.