“I had worked in workforce development and education that was connected to military members, veterans, and their loved ones,” said Dr. Trina Clayeux of her time prior to meeting her now-husband. “I was still doing workforce development for the military [when her husband retired]. To be kind of a part of that [transition] process both professionally and then personally, it was just so interesting how that experience unfolds.”
Dr. Clayeux's is now CEO of Give An Hour, an organization that provides free counseling for military transitioning to military members, veterans, and their loved ones through community and peer support, programs, and volunteer mental health professionals. Sports & Service spoke with Dr. Clayeux about her life in and out of the military, Give An Hour, and what’s next for the organization.
This article has been edited for clarity.
Could you tell me your background in the military sphere?
My background has been in and out of military spaces as a military spouse. I've been a military spouse for 26 years. It's been an interesting vantage point when it came to things that eventually led to this position, but even prior to that I had worked in workforce development and education that was connected to military members, veterans, and their loved ones. I actually taught workforce development classes and ran programs that had to do with developing the education and skills for military spouses and military members who were transitioning in Eastern New Mexico under a national emergency grant for education, both in Spokane and New Mexico as I was military spousing alongside my husband who was serving. It was interesting that you could see these gaps in services, and then the unique nature and community that surrounds the military veteran community. I also worked as a sexual assault coordinator for the U.S. Army as a contractor. So again, I just had these different avenues of being able to take a look inside the community, but also had this inside-outside perspective. I'm not a military member, but [I had] kind of one foot in the community and one foot out. Actually, I wrote a part of my dissertation on command spouse leaders. It was super fascinating to be able to sit down with command spouses and understand from their vantage point their experience, how it comes to be, and the different kinds of rituals and customs that you're working in. I also did veteran housing. One of the interesting things in that position — I was a chief operating officer for housing — that we were coming up against that was affecting veterans' ability to maintain housing was mental health. So we actually mobilized a team within the organization to put together a mental health response and it just blossomed. What we figured out was that a lot of the challenges and issues didn't require clinical support, but they did require support that we could do at our level. So, it has been such a great move to Give An Hour, in which so much of our focus has been on community-based and mental health support, and then having this incredible network of volunteer clinicians who can step into that clinical space when it's needed. I think that's what makes it so unique; we are trying to help people at that community level and help each other, and also lean back into a clinical network when somebody needs and requires something additional.
You mentioned you did work for veteran housing, and you also mentioned that a lot of the housing problems that these veterans were having were because of mental health issues. Why do you think mental health is playing such a big factor against veterans rather than helping them?
There's not necessarily a system of mental health care. It feels very patchwork. Whether you're kind of outside of it like I was in that role or inside of it like I am in this role, it's still not a system of care. It's very complex. It's very difficult to navigate. I always think we're all doing it with the right intent, but from a customer perspective, you have to get into the grit and the details to understand what that customer experience is like. There are more than 59 million people who could benefit from mental health support and there are 536,000 licensed therapists. So when you just look at the distant bridge between how many people could benefit from mental healthcare and how many actual clinical providers we have, there's a numbers game that cannot be solved just by having more clinicians. I think that becomes some of the multi-layered approaches, like with veterans, again, veterans of different eras have different relationships with mental health so there's certainly stigma attached, but it also changes and kind of moves and lives and operates differently across generations, across services, across age, race, and a lot of times, that stigma is layered. It's not like with every military member, there's a stigma, but depending on how you are coming up and experiencing life, that stigma may also be layered within your community or within your household or within your culture.
Tell me about Give An Hour and what response you've seen from it since you became the CEO.
Give An Hour was founded in 2005, but the work started even much earlier and it was in direct response to service members and veterans, post 9/11. Back in 2005, nobody was talking about mental health. Certainly, the military had a different take on mental health than it does now. The military has been incredibly progressive in how they think and engaged in mental health, but in 2005, it just wasn't part of our discourse. We even had service members who were afraid to get care so the whole impetus was to have this network of volunteer mental health professionals for military members, veterans, and their loved ones.
I always think, which is so forward-thinking, that this isn't only the military or their service members, but also the network around them. Loved ones can be defined by the people in their proximity to the service members. So we didn't even put that sort of barrier around it.
So [military members, veterans, and their loved ones] could seek individual therapy from somebody in our network, which is confidential and barrier-free. There’s no primary care referral, there's no insurance involved. It was just getting you connected to care. Over time, as the conversations changed, we started a campaign to change, called “Campaign to Change Direction”, and it was about destigmatizing mental health, talking about it differently, re-languaging the way in which we thought and spoke about mental health care and mental health seeking. The idea of connection and your social connection as essential for good mental health hasn't been more apparent. So a lot of our work had already begun to look at peer support and peer groups and how to put people with a shared living experience, even if it's not identical, together with clinical support and have them support one another as you are progressing along in your journey. It really amplifies support. It's just magical. It's hard to even describe the ability of someone to affirm and essentially, to understand what you're saying without you having to explain it so deeply. So we do that certainly with the military members, but we've also taken it into some other population-based communities like mass violence, which has a lot of connection to military experience.
What are some next steps or next goals for Give An Hour?
We want to grow our network to 50,000 licensed mental health professionals, which will be a multi-pronged approach, and we want to retain clinicians who are looking to retire and choose us as the place that maybe they stay engaged with and stay involved, and also looking at an early career. For folks who are working on their licensure, we want to be able to provide a space for them to do their hours of counseling. We could provide supervision and have some of our therapists help; maybe they can't give an hour to a service member, but they can certainly give an hour to supervise the up-and-coming generation. We have such a variety of interesting ways in which we offer support and service, and it's all based on what people want and need. We actually spend time listening and learn about specifically what they are looking for and how they want to be supported.
We want to impact at least 8 million people in the next five years and that means specifically through either direct support, group support, education support, and/or training support. We pretty much have anything people could want and need when it comes to support. We're working on a mental health in the workplace tool right now. We are also doing training for individuals who are still helping with the Afghanistan evacuation in resettlement efforts. We're helping the military, veterans, and civilians address their own mental health while they're trying to support people in their mental health long term. We've been doing that for more than a year, and we want to continue that. We want to help support other organizations who are helping with Afghanistan, and Ukraine resettlement efforts and be able to not only help themselves, but help someone else. That is something we're definitely looking at ongoing.
Putting those groups together with a clinician is always just an exciting way to learn, listen, and respond in a way that has grit and meaning to it, not just a one size fits all.
Is this something that you guys also strive for, maybe changing that mentality of always being on the clock? Or something you are trying to help veterans balance?
Absolutely. It's so contextual too. We're all looking for balance in different areas of our lives. We're also looking for tools and practices that will work for us, that are practical and effective. What I've experienced at Give An Hour that is unique is how much time we spend listening and learning about those tensions - and providing customized "solutions" that can help you move toward your goals and how you define progress. We've emphasized that it can't be one size fits all — it has to feel customized to you and your life.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Dr. Trina Clayeux