For many, Memorial Day will mean an extra day off, a trip to the beach, or maybe a parade. For families of fallen soldiers, it will mean a day of reflection.
As of May 23, there have been 6,459 U.S. casualties from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, commonly called TAPS, will be holding its 18th annual National Military Survivor Seminar in Arlington, Va. The seminar began Wednesday and continues through Monday, and has programs for families of survivors, from young to old, including art therapy, yoga and support groups.
Alison Malachowski, whose son Staff Sgt. James M. Malachowski was killed in March 2011 by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, planned to attend the event this weekend with her daughter.
Malachowski, of Westminster, said she's interested in the various classes and seminars that deal with the grieving process, especially since everyone grieves differently.
"I think one of the best things that families get out of participating out in the TAPS Military Survivors Seminar is the ability to connect with other families who have experienced a similar loss," TAPS spokeswoman Ami Neiberger-Miller said.
Barbara Van Dahlen, the president and founder of a nonprofit foundation for mental health professionals, founded Give an Hour in 2006 after realizing the mental health field was not prepared enough for the veterans coming back from war.
"Because of my training background in mental health, we learned a lot about post traumatic stress syndrome because of the Vietnam veterans. So I thought 'Okay we're going to be in great shape to handle this,'" Van Dahlen said.
The length of the wars and soldiers who face several deployments changed how mental health professionals treat soldiers, veterans and their families, Van Dahlen explained.
Give an Hour donates counseling by mental health professionals for active duty members of the military, veterans, families and their communities. While Give an Hour is based out of Washington, D.C., healthcare professionals donate their time all over the United States. As of November 2011, there have been 46,000 hours of counseling donated to those involved in the military.
Next, Van Dahlen is hoping to educate and inform the communities of those with deployed or fallen soldiers.