Many veterans have invisible wounds—the mental health issues—that make it difficult for them to go back to civilian life. Even more, these also take a toll on their families. In this episode, Dr. Timothy J. Hayes interviews Modie Lavin, a coordinator for the Road Home Program, about mental health and the support services needed for veterans and their families. Understanding this firsthand, she tells us about her experiences with having her son serve as a Corporal in the US Marine Corps. Modie talks about helping veterans and their families work through mental health issues and shares some of the challenges in implementing their programs. Follow along to this conversation as Modie aims to bridge the gap in reaching the individuals and families who need help and providing awareness to people through education campaigns.
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Support Services For The Invisible Wounds: Helping Veterans And Their Families Work Through Mental Health Issues With Modie Lavin
Modie Lavin is a USMC Gold Star Mother. She understands the needs for mental health programs for military families firsthand. Her son served as a Corporal in the US Marine Corps and deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 with the Second Battalion 11th Marines. Her son, Conner T. Lowry, was killed in action on 3/1/2012 in Helmand Provence, Afghanistan. She is the Family Outreach Coordinator at Rush University Medical Center. Prior to coming to Rush, she was the Program Facilitator for Veterans at the Chicago Park District and worked closely with the Jesse Brown VA, other community service providers and organizations.
Lavin chartered recreational based programs for veterans as well as coordinated events. She also directed resource affairs for veterans at various locations throughout Chicago including Resource Expo at Soldier Field alongside the Valor Games, Midwest. Lavin and her family consistently attend ceremonies and events honoring our fallen and veterans. Modie says, “As a Gold Star mother, I understand the challenges parents and families face and moving on with their lives. In the words of Gold Star Mothers founder, Grace Darling Seibold, “I feel that I am honoring my son and his sacrifice for our country by helping our returning veterans and families adjust to civilian life.”
Modie, thank you for being here. It’s delightful to meet you finally.
It’s delightful to meet you too.
What got you into what you’re doing now? How did you get started in it? What drives your passion?
I had my own business for seventeen years. I was a decorative artist. I did murals and other types of artwork in places of residence and commercial. My son was in the Marine Corps. He was deployed to Afghanistan. On March 1st, 2012, my life came to a screeching halt and crumbled because my son was killed in Afghanistan. The loss of a child especially in a third world country where you can’t be with them is more devastating than I can describe in words. It brought my life to a halt and I was pretty numb and unknowing of anything going on in my life for about a year. It destroyed my mental health. The grieving took on forms that I was unfamiliar with even to the thoughts of why am I living.
Luckily, I have an amazing family and community and with lots of support, they stood me up. They kept me going and during that first year, I had the opportunity to meet my son’s battle buddies when they returned back from Afghanistan. That impacted me because I saw the devastation and the trauma they were going through. I kept in touch with them. I also got to know a couple of their mothers. This natural occurrence happened where I passionately compassionately wanted to help veterans suffering from PTSD, anxiety, depression and transition problems specifically combat veterans at that time. Now, just any veteran. It came naturally and I wanted to do something to help because I understood that this grief didn’t belong to me.
Therefore, I started out working at the Chicago Park District as a Program Manager and I started recreational programs in Chicago communities for veterans. It was a great push start for me to get back in the workforce. I was still on the shaky ground toward 2013. After a couple of years, there’s an amazing program I heard about called the Road Home Program at Rush University. It had their doors open not too long. I heard about the great work they were doing for these invisible wounds of war. I applied for a job, Dr. Hayes and I got it. I’m an Outreach Coordinator there. I’m going to say that I am one of the most passionate people and serving the veteran community and their family members. I truly can’t believe that this is my job that I’m able to make this my mission because I truly feel it in my heart. That’s my story. A little run-on sentence there but I wanted you to get the full picture.
Thank you. I don’t have any words. We have had some major losses in our family and a lot of military. Fortunately, none of our military family died in the military but my sister lost a child and we’ve had our series of losses in the family. My heart goes out to you and my congratulations on your being able to turn that corner. You said people stood you up, I would offer you stood up with their help, and turned it into a blessing for you and others. Congratulations on finding a way through that darkness.
Thank you. We have that fork in the road. It’s sometimes nice that somebody is holding onto your shoulders and saying, “Don’t go down that path. Try the uncomfortable one, the one you don’t want to do.”
Now, you’re doing that for others. What are some of the ways that you and the Road Home Program are helping our veterans?
The list is long but I’m going to point to that praise, the invisible wound of war. We’re very familiar with veterans who come home with disabilities, scars, disfigurement and those we can see. We treat the ones you can’t see and they can be as debilitating. The Road Home Program is a mental health clinic under the Department of Psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center. This clinic zeroes in on post-traumatic stress, military sexual trauma, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues that come from not only serving in combat that so many think of but serving in the military. We accept any discharge status. If you wore the uniform for one day, you’re eligible at the Road Home Program. We also see their family members. That’s unlike our VA who does beautiful work and hosts a huge spectrum of support for veterans. We’re strictly mental health. The VA doesn’t include the family members. We find that healing is quite helpful.
As I was doing some research for this and looking at the website, I got the impression that veterans can come, get this assistance and they don’t have to pay for it.
You got that right. It has no cost. Our goal is to reduce those barriers to care. We’re going to do whatever it takes to make sure you get in there because we understand mental health. If you start hearing the word “no” or if it costs them things and other barriers, we feel that we’re pushing them away farther. We try to keep that door as wide open as possible. We even have a program called the IOP. It’s the Intensive Outpatient Program. It’s what I call the bootcamp of mental health therapy in which we condense 6 to 9 months of weekly therapy appointments into a two-week time. We fly veterans from all over the United States and they stay at a guest house about a block from our clinic.Normalize the conversation and empower people to admit it's okay not to be okay for now. Click To Tweet
We shuttled them to and from per programming every day, Monday through Friday, 8:00 to 5:00. All meals are provided, and we do this at zero cost. We’re going to help them in the event that they can’t leave because of their job. We’re going to even assist with their employers or do they need a letter from us. We can also help if they need some financial support during those two weeks. People can’t walk away from a job and say, “I’m going to get help.” Those barriers to care, we try to reduce. We bring them out in two weeks and we have seen significant changes in the veterans.
We include their family members. We used to fly out the family members. Now, we are doing it virtually due to COVID, but our veterans are in person. We’re lucky to be attached to Rush University with COVID protocols at such a high level. That’s what we do. We have little nicknames for ourselves, Suicide Prevention Clinic. Many have had suicide attempts and suicide ideations. We don’t want them to get to that point. We offer this like, “Come on out.” Some of the magic to it is being with other veterans in a cohort. There are approximately 12 to 18 veterans in this two-week program. Also, the inclusion of the family members in which we give them psychoeducation. We also have an integrative approach. It’s not CPT therapy. We have art therapy, mindfulness, yoga, we have support for substance use if they have been struggling with that prior to coming, and other various programs that are very supportive.
When you signed on, there were only 17 or 18 people in the program. I was going through the list of clinicians and it seemed like it went forever. How many people are employed in the Road Home Program?
I’m going to give you a rough estimate off the top of my head because some come and go. We have a team from psychiatrists, psychologists, all the way down to back-office admin. Everybody is so important in the roles. I’m going to guess that we’re around 70 employees at this time. We’re a nonprofit. We’re philanthropically funded 100%. We are under the Rush umbrella. It’s this unicorn of how can you be attached to this major medical university but still be running as a nonprofit? It works out well.
How do people find out about this? I’m a clinician in the distant suburbs of Chicago halfway between Chicago and Rockford. I was startled to find out about the program. I’ve had some connections with people further out closer to Rockford and the VA people out there, I’ve done work to VA in Evanston, and never knew about this program. How are you reaching out to the veterans? How can they get more information? How’s that exchange happening?
I’m going to start by saying it’s my job to make sure that you know about it. We’re connecting and now you know more about it. I do my best to make my reach far and wide to bring awareness about this program. We also have a staff of outreach coordinators like myself all have done the same. The staff are all veterans and/or family members like myself. We do that through multilayers like social media campaigns and phone calls. We used to host a lot of events pre-COVID in communities where we would hope to engage veterans living in those communities. We do a softball tournament or partner with another organization in something they’re doing.
We try to make ourselves as visible as possible. We’re also big on education. It’s part of my job to educate the public and I can even offer non-military veteran providers like yourself, provide military one-on-ones to your staff, PTSD 101 and Road Home Program 101. These are opportunities that we open ourselves up to unfamiliar providers and communities. There’s a good sampling but outreach can come in many shapes and sizes. We do whatever we can.
I keep thinking about the Hope For The Day Program out of Chicago and the way they would go to these concerts. They either set them up or work with people who are having concerts and have it piggyback. It’s a wonderful way to blend and infiltrate other audiences and venues where people wouldn’t normally be talking about mental health issues but normalizing those conversations. Is that the kind of thing you’ve also done?
You said it so well, normalizing the conversation, that stigma. When we talk about veterans and PTSD, it almost comes off as though it’s a weakness. Let me clarify something. There is a stigma out there that all veterans that come back from combat and/or the military all have PTSD. That couldn’t be further from the truth. About 30% come home with some mental health issue. Seventy percent integrate back into civilian life very well and are carrying on. The Road Home Program serves that 30%. I wanted to tuck that in there that we’re not talking about every veteran, but it is hard to reach the ones. Sometimes they might not even know they need help. We do exactly like Hope For The Day. We try to be wherever we can be to get that message out and to also relieve that stigma.
We’re talking about the ones that you might know. You might have a neighbor and be at a concert. As I always like to say, these veterans that need help are hiding in plain sight. A lot of times, we reach the family member before we reach the veteran. There could be a spouse, parent, partner or child. There are studies about child developmental issues relating to living with a veteran that has PTSD. We see children at the Road Home Program. We have child psychiatrists and psychologists on staff. We do whatever we can. A family member can receive outpatient therapy at the Road Home Program without even their veteran going.
Are you doing more of that virtual now through the Coronavirus time?
We are doing outpatient. I talked about our IOP, our Intensive Outpatient, that is in-person where we fly them in from all over the US or in our backyard here in the Chicago land area. Our outpatient, you can still come in-person visits, but for Illinois only, we are doing virtual visits. That seems to be a little more popular right now for obvious reasons than the in-person. Family and/or veterans are eligible at no cost to receive virtual therapy if they reside in the state of Illinois.
Aside from the actual presence of loving family and friends, what do you say was one of the biggest things that helped you get over this loss or turn it into a purposeful motivator?
I don’t think we ever get over it. I feel changed. I know I’m changed for life. It’s a mindset of waking up every day and I don’t have a good day every day but waking up every day and saying, “What tools do I have in my bag to make this a good day?” It’s getting out of my own head and trauma. When you’re serving others, I do believe you’re serving yourself. If I’m not thinking about my trauma all day long and trying to help somebody else, that for me works. Does it work for everybody? I have no idea.
It’s funny that you bring that up because I thought it was just me, a Gold Star Mother. I come to find out there’s a Gold Star Mothers chapter nationally and in the State of Illinois. I come upon a meeting after Conner passed. I find out there are a lot of Gold Star Mothers. In fact, our mission as a national, the American Gold Star Mothers, is to help veterans. That’s when I thought, “This came naturally for me and it became natural for all of them.” The support of the American Gold Star Mothers specifically my Illinois chapter has helped me tremendously. I received therapy for myself for quite a while. I’m the biggest proponent in saying, “Get therapy. It’s so worth it.”
It’s wonderful that the stigma is getting loosened and faded a bit so that people can find out about the more effective tools that have been developed over the past years, whether it’s combat trauma, the trauma of being in the military, having to adjust to coming back to civilian life or the actual mental health issues that come on us later in life whether we were in the military or not. If we can normalize the conversation and empower people to ask the Hope For The Day motto, “It’s okay not to be okay for now.” It’s okay to say I’m not okay. In that admission of an issue that needs help or resolution, I’m inviting the tools that might be most useful for me.
That’s one of my favorite things, it’s okay to not be okay. I can say that loud and proud now about myself if I’m having a day. Before I forget, I wanted to move into mentioning that we serve MST, Military Sexual Trauma. If you want to talk about a stigma or something that they want to keep hush-hush, the Road Home Program is forging and we’re doing such amazing things in the MST community. That falls under PTSD. When I say we serve veterans with PTSD, they have IOP I was talking about, we do combat veterans for two weeks and then the next two weeks will be for MST, Military Sexual Trauma. It’s a real thing. It causes major mental health issues. We have a staff so honed in this subject matter and helpful. I wanted to make sure I tucked that in because I left it off.
It goes for both genders. It’s 1 in 100 men and much more common among women, but it’s not just women serving in the military who were subjected to that sexual trauma.
Do you know that there are more men than women in the military? These are the numbers I’ve heard but let’s break down the difference in gender in the military to begin with. I do believe it’s 80% male and 20% female.
The actual number of women who are subjected to sexual trauma is smaller. The percentage of women is higher for 100 women but the number of men is larger than the raw number of women simply because 80% of the population is male. As a clinician for a lot of years, we’ve understood that most of the sexual abuse that we hear about or people come in and talk about is women or young girls who were sexually abused. That’s what we hear about because the stigma and the population are so strong that many people we sit with who are male have been abused and they will mention it.
Road Home Program tries to remove that stigma as well. A lot of people will say, “I assume that’s female-only cohorts.” Absolutely not. We see transgender and others. It’s how you identify you are eligible for our program based on your trauma. We also have criteria. We don’t accept anybody just because you call. It doesn’t mean you will be accepted into our IOP. We have to look at some history there, the providers you’ve been working with and make sure that you’re a good fit. We don’t accept actively using substance use. If you have shown that in the last 60 days or so you completed a program and we talked to your provider, absolutely. Actively using would be disruptive to a cohort. We also take our clinicians professionally. We take a temperature check and making sure you’re a good fit. Do you need something a little higher level than what we offer?
You’re tremendously aided by the fact that your website is so well done, professional and relatively easy to navigate. When I’m researching for these kinds of interviews, sometimes I get lost on the website and that wasn’t the case here. There’s a beautiful video about military sexual trauma and there’s a female clinician describing it. There’s a beautiful video about the IOP program. It’s a really wonderful tool and the website is RoadHomeProgram.org. Is the website the best way for people to make contact with the program or ask for an evaluation?
The website is one of our tools. You can also call our main number which is (312) 942-8387. You can also reach out to me. I’m an Outreach Coordinator. I’m the one that’s trying to bring the message to the communities. A lot of times, they’ll connect with me. They want to hear their little skittish maybe. I’ll give you a scenario, “I should call this. My wife or husband says I should call this place but they told me to call you so you can tell me a little bit more about it because I’m not ready.” I can be that soft landing and that warm handoff because sometimes it’s hard to say “I need help.” I’m a safe, confidential phone call and say, “It’s okay. Nobody needs to know you’re coming. We care about you. The fact that you called me and tells me that you’re wanting something.” Let me give you some information on how this rolls out, our intake and please call. Usually, those are successful. They can reach out to me as well.
I learned of you because of the Illinois Joining Forces and the USO and I was having an interview with Jim and Justin. Tell us a little bit about how you would interface with people like the USO and Illinois Joining Forces.
I’ve known both of them for a long time because we both have been working in the veterans’ space for years. Justin Miller used to work at the Road Home Program. He did an amazing job that went on into a bigger role in the US, which I know he’s doing phenomenally. Jim Dolan has been with IJF since I remember. He is the director over there. I met him through outreach doing exactly what I said earlier. It’s my job to reach out. That’s obvious. Who am I reaching out to? Other veteran-serving organizations. I worked beautifully alongside both of them and we stay in touch often. That’s how I landed here.
Is there a way to talk about it? Do you have any numbers about how many veterans and/or their family members are active with the Road Home Program at any one time?
That’s a question that I’m not straight with my answer because of COVID, we’ve seen the numbers fluctuate so much but I’ll tell you that IOP program that I was talking about. The two weeks for the MST and the combat veterans, we have the capacity to see 242 veterans a year. Those cohorts are predominantly filled every two weeks. You can always get a drop, somebody that doesn’t show up or we can also get add-ons but I’m going to give that rough estimate. Our outpatient program is a revolving door with veterans, family members and children.
We also offer couples therapy. We see a couple of hundred a month amongst our clinical staff. Our goal is not to have a waitlist. We never want to look like any institution if you’re having mental health. With that, I’ll say, in order to get accepted into that IOP, you might have to wait about six weeks but it’s not like you call, you do the intake with our clinicians and then we drop you. We’re going to stay in touch. We’re going to get you ready. Even if you need a few phone calls in between, our outpatient issues are not a waitlist at all.When you're serving others, you're serving yourself. Click To Tweet
Talking about the numbers like that helps to put a little dent in that stigma. There are a lot of people that come and access a program like this because of the quality of the program and their needs. When you meet that need and people find out about it, it starts to snowball.
I even get to know a lot of our patients in our outpatient. We also forge pretty good relationships even for the ones flying in from all over the US. There is a saying and they’re very proud to say that they’re part of the Road Home family. They truly are a number or anything. They are swabbed in. Our whole staff is happy to have them there. I’ve forged some great relationships and they don’t want to leave.
I get that sense when Jim and Justin were talking about it. They were very excited that I do the interview with you and find out more about this Road Home Program because it’s such a powerful, nurturing, healing interaction with that program, with your clinicians and with you.
It is. I’ve been with them since 2014 and I’ve stayed here this long for a reason. It’s a feel-good place. They do outstanding work. They’re still standing tall. We see a lot of smiles and a lot of healing going on. I feel very strongly about it.
You’re looking forward to the time when there are no more COVID restrictions or Coronavirus restrictions and people can be more active in person. At the same time, it’s a real boon that you’re doing for people inside Illinois that you’re able to do that outpatient work through telehealth. It’s going to open it up to some people that might not have been able to take advantage of your services because of the drive time. Are you located in Downtown Chicago?
Right. We’re in the West loop at Rush University Medical Center. We’re on their campus. It’s 1645 West Jackson Boulevard. We’re in a separate building on the other side of the expressway because we believe in confidentiality. Especially for people suffering from PTSD, we don’t want to get to navigate a huge hospital with elevators. We keep it pretty simple there. We also have a clinic down in Effingham, Illinois. We opened up that satellite.
Is that 4 or 5 hours away?
It is about 4 to 4.5 hours, you’re absolutely right. We found the need for veterans in rural settings. You don’t have the resources as we do in the big city. Dr. Blake Schroedter, who was on our staff, was the brainchild behind bringing it. He moved down there with his family and is thriving in a road home clinic down there. If he gets IOP, he refers them up to Chicago, but he has an amazing outpatient clinic going there along with Patricia McDaniel, one of our clinicians. They’re doing COVID protocol as well. It reminded me of when COVID hit, we were all freaking out and like, “How do we work from home? I’m so used to being out in the community shaking hands.”
Watching our clinical leadership, I don’t know if they slept for two weeks putting together in an emergency way for us to offer services virtually because it was new. We have this IOP. We were flying veterans. They were on a list. They were coming to fly in. The next cohort, we had to call them and say, “You can’t.” They’re coming for mental health. The backflips and the cartwheels they did. For quite a while there, we were doing that IOP virtually. Now that we’re back into in-person, we’re not offering that because we can’t get them here safely through a lot of COVID. It was interesting, but true to Russia’s reputation of excellence, they got it done. We were up and running and still serving the population even during COVID.
Is there something that I haven’t even asked you about yet that you wanted to make sure to mention?
No, you’re so good at this. I think we covered everything.
I thank you for the time to help with this project to get the information out there and the work you do with other Gold Star Mothers and our vets. It’s greatly needed and appreciated.
I appreciate you as well. I know you work in the communities especially by doing shows like this to bring awareness for a lot of mental health needs.
It’s a special connection because 3 of the 4 founders of Journey’s Dream are doing it because they lost a family member of mental health. It’s an honor to be able to help you promote what you do and to be able to assist that in some small way. We are very grateful that you’re assisting with a Journey’s Dream Project. Thank you so much, Modie.
I hope it’s not the last time we talk.
I’ll make sure it isn’t.
Meet the other founders and stuff because we could do some nice thinking work together. Things are starting to look a little brighter for COVID. Please stay in touch. I enjoyed this so much.
I will put it on the calendar to reach out in a few months and see what’s happening.
That sounds great.
Thank you so much.
- Modie Lavin
- Chicago Park District
- Jesse Brown VA
- Road Home Program
- Hope For The Day Program
- Jim and Justin – Previous Episode
About Modie Lavin
Modie Lavin, USMC Gold Star Mother Family Outreach Coordinator for The Road Home Program at Rush Modie understands the needs for mental health programs for military families firsthand. Modie’s son served as a Corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 with 2nd Battalion/11th Marines. Her son, Cpl. Conner T. Lowry was KIA on 3/1/2012 in Helmand Provence, Afghanistan. Modie Lavin is the Family Outreach Coordinator at Rush University Medical Center.
Prior to coming to Rush, she was the Program Facilitator for Veterans at the Chicago Park District and worked closely with the Jesse Brown VA and other community service providers and organizations. Lavin chartered recreational-based programs for veterans as well as coordinated events. Lavin also directed resource fairs for veterans at various locations throughout Chicago, including a Resource Expo at Soldier Field alongside the Valor Games Midwest.
Lavin and her family consistently attend ceremonies and events honoring our fallen and veterans. “As a Gold Star mother, I understand the challenges parents and families face in moving on with their lives. In the steps of Gold Star Mothers founder Grace Darling Siebold, I feel that I am honoring my son and his sacrifice for our country by helping our returning veterans and families adjust to civilian life.”
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