An update and feather ruffling.

I haven’t provided an update or insight to the organization in a while, so I’m going to take the time to do it now.  I do my best to keep everyone up to speed, but sometimes time gets away.  I thank all of our followers a dedicated supporters out there that have been on our side and support our cause.  This is a difficult space to navigate sometimes and we greatly appreciate all the support we get.  It has been common that during our pursuit of advocating for wellness, the majority of support comes from the people who do the actual work; not from the administration and so far certainly not from regulatory agencies or other forms of oversight.  I sincerely hope that changes in the future, but that push is going to have to continue for now.  Topics like mental health, addiction, and wellness are all important subjects that those in positions of power are quick to advocate for because it sounds good, but when it comes to the practice or accountability (or often lack of) the subject seems to fizzle out.  There are many reasons for this, but that is an entirely different conversation.

We are a fully accredited and recognized 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization.  We have completed our first full year as such and all the appropriate filings have been made.  It has been an interesting experience going through all of this.  Forming this organization properly required a substantial personal investment as well as the initial funding support from our followers.  We intend to keep the promise of being there for you when things are going well and in times when it’s not so good.  We are expanding our services and providers and will be updating that accordingly.

It’s no secret that there are some shady nonprofits in the world.  When I was building this organization, I took a fair amount of time to look at other organizations - both successful and failed for whatever reason.  As I was examining some of these organizations it became a common theme that while they had a fair amount of revenue and put on a great public relations appearance, they actually contributed very little to their cause.  They had an extensive payroll, unusually high expenditures (I found one small nonprofit that spent $14,000 on chairs for their conference room) or had a lot of “seminars” and “business conferences”.  My personal favorite was something labeled “network development” for an absolutely obscene amount of money. I find that bothersome.  I just cannot support that type of blatant mismanagement of funds.  I know there are some legitimate conference and travel variety events out there, but there should be a point where whoever is in charge says “enough is enough” and limits how the organization spends.  There are organizations out there collect millions of dollars a year, but only contribute a very small portion to their intention of which they were formed.  My personal favorite is one that paid $12 million for a series of commercials, paid their executive board several million dollars each, and ultimately ended up giving $8,000 to the actual cause.  It doesn’t make any sense to me, and it is essentially a legal scam.  I will not name them, but feel free to poke around the internet if you don’t believe me.  We also do not indulge in such activities like spending money on food for “business meetings”, useless trinkets, or anything else that is essentially a waste of money.  As much as I wouldn’t mind having gold dusted lobster tails during a business meeting, I don’t find that an appropriate use of funds.  When you operate a nonprofit company, that should imply that you are well-committed to doing the max with what you have and not treating it like your very own source of tax-free extravagance.  I’m not talking about legitimately hiring staff or handling business expenses, it’s about abuse masquerading as charity.

We differ from most other organizations in this field by one major concept: raising awareness versus action.  We are an action organization first and advocate for awareness secondly.  I don’t mean that to minimize some of our fellow awareness organizations who do an awesome job, it’s just that we do things differently from what you might be used to.  If you contact us with an issue, we direct you to the proper resource and provide follow-up.  We do not do a Google search or read from a Wikipedia article based on what you having going on.  While we do advertise, it is directly to our target audience with the intent to push the information that we are out there and willing to help. You do not need to purchase a membership or create any accounts.  You contact us, we help you.  It’s that direct.  If we don’t have what you need, we will do everything we can to get it for you or point you to where you can.  We handled a request for help several months back with an individual with a very specific and rare issue.  It was not something that we had dealt with before, but through our network we were able to get them definitive care.  Not many organizations can make this claim, and we are proud that we can.  Unique or unusual situations do come up from time to time and thats ok - we are just glad you finally reached out.  There’s no judgment, we aren’t going to be calling people and laughing about it or divulging any information to anyone without your permission, we just get you to help.  Unless a set of circumstances arises where it is absolutely necessary or otherwise mandated by law, we don’t tell anyone anything except the provider we refer you to.  Even then, it’s typically only the basics (circumstances depending) we as the organization gather from you.  We try to leave as much as possible between you and the provider.  Besides, none of us are in any position to judge you anyways.

Currently this organization does not have a very large monetary fund, and that is ok.  The mission is what is important to us.  Having some money is obviously important for basic operations, but we have exceptionally little overhead as was built into how we do things.  I designed this organization to run on “zero dollars” and anything over that is a bonus.  No one gets paid here; no money exchanges hands with our providers, you are never expected to pay for anything we do for you (unless it’s a situation where it’s actually necessary or voluntary for whatever reason).  Most of our expenses consist of internet services like our website and email system, accounting software, printing of educational information, and posting about our offerings including the occasional mailings.  As you may have seen last year with our survey, we did invest some money in that because it was worth the expense.  The data collected was very useful and we plan on doing another one later this year.  Finances for services (providers) are between you and the provider and your insurance company.  We will do our best to mediate and advocate for you should you be in a financial hardship, but every case is taken individually.  If you need something and can’t afford it, we will do what we can for you.  We can be pretty creative.

One goal for this year is to add funding to the William W. White Memorial Fund.  Billy was a personal friend and fellow Paramedic who passed away unexpectedly a little over a year ago.  He was an avid supporter of our mission and a very caring and loving person.  This fund is set aside in the eventual hopes of being able to provide support to first responders and families who are experiencing financial hardship as the result of pursuing wellness.  A majority of employers and disability insurance plans have zero interest or ability to provide support for someone who has elected to go through the process of wellness - in this case we are specifically talking about rehabilitation and recovery services such as inpatient stays.  Even for those who have supplemental disability insurance will receive no coverage if you opt to go out of work for the purpose of recovery.  It’s an awful mess and one I unfortunately have first-hand experience with.  While my employer was as supportive as possible (thankfully), any of the insurance and disability safety nets that I had been paying into for years failed me.  Even with average medical insurance coverage, the cost of everything was enormous and weighed significantly on me as I was going through the process.  It’s a damn shame, but that shouldn’t be enough to discourage you.  Lack of financial support, or often just the threat of, is often a deterrence for people to seek help.  We see this frequently.  An individual may understand and acknowledge they require help, but will avoid it specifically on the basis of not being able to afford the time off from work and the expenses associated that are not covered by insurance.  What we have done in some instances is advocated on behalf of the individual with the treatment center or provider and came up with a mutually agreeable payment plan as well as directed them to private funding that may be available to people in need.  These things are generally not advertised, but are available in the right situations and if you ask in the right way.  Having us behind you for that helps a lot.  The sad reality for many people is that their issues only get worse with delay, no matter what the reason for it is.  The situations do not get better without some variety of intervention or action.  This has resulted in incidents of suicide, self harm, and substance abuse or misuse as well as hospitalizations that could have been prevented.  At this point they may be mentally, physically, and financially broken which also hinders and complicates the process of recovery and wellness.  If we can break that link and get people what they need sooner, it typically provides a much more desirable outcome.  Contrary to popular belief, not everyone needs to hit “rock bottom” in order to get well.  We subscribe to the method of thought that early, direct, aggressive, honest, and effective methods of intervention and treatment is far more beneficial to everyone rather than waiting for that person to fall so hard that getting back up is almost insurmountable.  When you are laying at the bottom of the well you just fell down, looking up at the light makes it feel impossible you’ll ever get up there.  If we can catch you before you fall down that well, it’s far better.  As I’ve shared my story in the past, I can tell you that being at the bottom of that well feels pretty hopeless.  It is terrible, lonely, and the uncertainty is terrifying.  It is also full of regret, and that can follow you for a very long time.  The cycle of dysfunction or unrest needs to be broken early.   It is often overlooked that for a majority of people, recovery and wellness is something that effects the entire family - and they often require support to either understand the process or be able to heal or recover themselves.  The overall goal of this fund is to be able to provide that finical support for these people.  We want you to choose to be well and not be distracted by finances during that process.  I understand that sounds like quite a challenge, but I can tell you that from past fundraisers that we have done for families in bad situations that this is a necessary challenge and something that needs to be done.  As it was very bluntly put to me by one of my counselors “Money comes and goes, but you can’t pay your bills or take care of your loved ones if you are dead or passed out under a bridge every day”.

These issues quite literally can rip families apart and destroy you.  It is pure hell for everyone involved.  It is also no secret that incidences of substance abuse, mental health problems, and suicide are significantly higher in public servants than other professions.  Depending on what literature you are reading, it is determined at between 6 to 12 times higher than the average population.  The numbers aren’t very great because the data is very poorly collected, if at all.  It is also a subject that is rarely, if ever, talked about.  At the beginning of the year, we launched an initiative to try and establish a database containing a reporting structure for tracking first responder suicides, suicide attempts, and assaults.  One would think that something like this was tracked by someone at some state or regulatory agency, right?  Well, not in Connecticut.  There is no mandate, statute, directive, or any other discussion on even reporting or tracking assaults on first responders and even far less suicidality or incidents of mental health or substance abuse issues that can be correlated with this line of work.  Seems strange, doesn’t it?  Well from the standpoint of administrators it makes perfect sense.  If you do not have any data on a subject that would directly imply that there is a problem somewhere in the framework of your industry that could potentially cost money and require additional accountability, the general thought process is to completely avoid it.

Last year, a firefighter put his dress uniform on and stood in front of a train.  An EMT shot herself in the chest after a recent traumatic situation she handled that caused her distress.  A police officer tried to shoot himself in the head while his family was asleep but failed because he was too intoxicated to use the weapon (thankfully).

This is only a small portion of what has been going on for many years, but those in authority continue to ignore these situations.  These are not isolated events either - they are just largely ignored and swept away.

But there are definitely no problems within the public service fields… because the lack of data says so….

So if you approached a state entity, oh lets say the Department of Public Health, Office of Emergency Medical Services, and informed them that you have designed a reporting structure for tracking these incidents so help could be distributed where needed that they would express interest.  Let’s even throw in there that no cost was going to be deferred over it, the tracking would be private and secure, and the statistical information would be shared to those who can use it for good.  We would be open to a partnership and guarantee oversight of the data to a designated person.  The only thing needed would be support from the agency.  The actual answer was no answer at all.  No returned emails or phone calls.  Not even the decency to say they weren’t interested or the typical maze of words saying they aren’t in a position to do anything.  Not a word or acknowledgement after six months of emails and several calls.

Frankly, I could care less who ends up tracking this data.  It just needs to be done, it needs to be published, and needs to be a cornerstone in directing resources to those who need it.

I see nothing, I hear nothing, I say nothing.  That is how the people at the top are looking at these issues.

There certainly are some exceptions, but those are in organizations who have an employee or member backed initiative.  Many of them do very well and it’s because they’ve lived through the hardship and tragedy of losing someone in these situations.  But these are the exceptions, not the rules.

Some agencies have begun to embrace the concept of peer groups and making services known or more available.  They’ve acknowledged, at least internally, that simply ignoring the situation isn’t making the outcomes any better.  It’s frankly just filling the cemetery.

If you have an idea or thought on how we can push this as a priority and necessity, I’d like to hear from you.

To a bit of a brighter note, we are planning an outing for early fall.  The people at North Parish Artifact Recovery have been working on securing equipment and land for a stress reduction exercise.  We will be metal detecting, so it should be an interesting event.  As we finalize the event we will post appropriately.   You will need to register and we will have a certain amount of equipment available.

We will also be making an appearance at the Connecticut Firefighter’s Convention this year.  It is located in Norwich and is taking place in September.  More details will come as things get closer.

We continue our monthly meetings in Norwich and all first responders and veterans are welcome to attend.  Family is also welcome.  Details are posted on our website and to our Facebook page if you are interested.  No RSVP necessary, just show up.

If you are interested in donating to the William White Fund that was discussed, you may access it here. As you have probably figured, all donations are tax-deductible.

Thank you everyone! - Dennis@uniformedhelp.org