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Honoring Our Littlest Warriors

Survey results consistently find that four out of five military children deal with increased stress and anxiety when a parent is deployed overseas or recovering from severe injury.
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First, a man shot and killed 12 people at random at the Washington Navy Yard. Then, a woman was shot and killed by police after attempting to ram her car through the gates of the White House. And let's not forget about the man who set himself on fire on the National Mall, succumbing to his injuries days later.

Mental health has stepped into an unflattering spotlight this fall. The centuries-old stigma against mental health issues, though, has been slowly deteriorating and becoming part of a national conversation. It's not just incidents in the nation's capital that are garnering attention on the matter.

As we approach Veterans Day, it's hard to turn a blind eye to the mental health needs of our troops that have been exposed since September 11. Those who are deployed overseas witness traumatic events and miss their families back home. Many return home with PTSD, and others struggle to cope with severe injuries sustained while serving. While there are many treatments and programs available to help these service members overcome their challenges, the best form of therapy might just be to take care of their children.

The nonprofit organization Our Military Kids makes sure their children are taken care of. The organization awards grants to children to pay for their participation in extracurricular activities -- generally speaking, that includes sports, fine arts, camps and tutoring programs. Being involved in activities allows children to focus on things they enjoy as opposed to a parent's absence or recovery process.

But the grants for children also seem to have a major impact on the service member. According to surveys completed by Our Military Kids, keeping kids active and involved in their communities is an effective way to complement the mental healthcare of the men and women who serve this country.

When families of wounded service members were asked if the grant program contributed to improved morale for the service member during his/her recovery, an overwhelming 97 percent said yes. Families of deployed service members had a similar reaction, with 96 percent agreeing that the grant program contributed to improved morale for the deployed service member.

Take Kevin, for example. He was injured in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, resulting in multiple physical injuries along with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The entire family dynamic changed, with his wife quitting her job to take care of Kevin around the clock.

Dealing with all of these changes, and his PTSD, was not easy for Kevin. He resisted leaving the house and became agitated in crowds. The only time he actually wanted to assimilate with society was to see his son and daughter excel in sports. They had both received grants from Our Military Kids as a result of Kevin's situation. His son participated in fencing and his daughter in rock climbing.

Getting out of the house gave Kevin the opportunity to talk with the small group of parents whose children participated in the same activities. It provided him with positive socialization while keeping him active and engaged, unlike his group therapy sessions that often left him more upset and stressed than before he went. Going to his children's sporting events proved so effective that Kevin's case manager remarked on the immensely positive impact it had on Kevin's therapy and rehabilitation.

And let's not forget about the positive benefit Our Military Kids' grants have on the children themselves. Survey results consistently find that four out of five military children deal with increased stress and anxiety when a parent is deployed overseas or recovering from severe injury. After receiving a grant, 89 percent of kids with a deployed parent were positively impacted by their activity participation; for children of the wounded, that number jumps to 100 percent.

With Veterans Day less than a week away, take a moment to remember these service members and their children. The sacrifices made by those serving in a war zone, and their families who hope for their safe return, should not go unnoticed. Honor the holiday this year by supporting our littlest warriors. By keeping them active and engaged, you're also investing in their parents and supporting the resilience and wellbeing of the entire military family.