Ellsworth “Tony” Williams, CEO of Veterans Counseling Veterans, has been concerned about the racial unrest the country is facing.
That’s why he and his organization are launching a podcast series for Black History Month to address veterans’ mental health issues through the lens of the Black community.
As a result, the series will discuss issues including how PTSD impacts Black veterans and their family members, Black veterans’ experience with military sexual trauma, and research related to Black veterans’ mental health.
“I believe understanding is the bridge to empathy,” Williams told Military Times. “And that’s what we’re lacking right now — the bridge to empathy.”
Altogether, six podcasts will be released to address or feature the following: Black Combat Female Veterans who chose mental health as their second career; Black Veterans and Military Sexual Trauma; Black Combat Veterans who chose mental health as their second career; Black Veterans, their Family and Mental Wellness; Black Veterans and Mental Health Research; Black Veteran Counselors and Mental Health.
“If you’re African American, you get the chance to see people like you who have problems and see how they address it,” Williams said. “And if you’re not African American, any other race or color, you can then see how we have the same kind of problems, but we deal with them in a different way.”
Podcasts will be released twice a week in February, every Monday and Thursday starting on Feb. 1. That was intentional.
“I decided to do it twice a week for the entire month of February because I didn’t want it to be a one-off...you just can’t look at something one time and learn,” Williams said.
Williams also said that he plans to conduct a similar series during Hispanic Heritage Month and LGBT Pride Month in the future.
Army veteran LaKetia Jones, who will participate in the panel about women who are combat veterans and now are mental health counselors, said it’s challenging to proudly continue to serve one’s country while experiencing “the continuation of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism, systemic oppression within and outside of the military and the blatant disregard for our lives.”
“I hope the listeners understand...the need for more mental health support within the military, especially for people of color,” Jones, who served a tour in Iraq and is now a licensed mental health professional, told Military Times in an email.
Despite the problems and issues the podcasts will address, the goal isn’t to slam the military. Rather, the purpose of the series is to raise awareness regarding veterans’ contributions to the military, regardless of their rank while serving, Jones said.
“This forum is not in place to bash the military but it is to bring to the forefront that there are many amazing Black veterans that may not have risen to the level of being a general or command sergeant major, but they/ we have risen to the level of being productive, innovative and create[d] veterans who give back to the veteran community in various ways and it is worthy of being noted,” Jones said.
Likewise, Jones said she hopes the effort paves the way for more equality for mental health care.
“The difference I hope to make is that more Black veterans and their families are afforded mental health support in the same manner as anyone else,” Jones said.
Veterans Counseling Veterans is a non-profit organization that offers training, advocacy and other services to veterans regarding mental health and suicide prevention. Approximately 17.6 veterans died by suicide each day in 2018, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Learn more about the podcast series here.