Today, on Veteran’s Day in the United States, we honor Judith Broder for helping veterans and their family members leave the scars of war behind and come home again.
Judith Broder, a psychiatrist, was drawn to create The Soldiers Project while watching a raw and powerful play written by a former Marine – "The Sand Storm: Stories from the Front" – which portrays the anguish U.S. soldiers face fighting in Iraq. She felt devastated, realizing that they had "done what they had to do but couldn’t live with themselves afterwards."
The Soldiers Project recruits volunteer therapists to provide unlimited, free, confidential therapy to combat veterans – and their families. The sessions aim to alleviate the behavioral problems that can result from combat trauma and address personal, moral, and spiritual crises that may follow grim wartime experiences or personal actions. Broder says the five-year-old program has a network of more than 200 volunteers, has treated more than 300 patients in the Los Angeles area, and is being replicated in other cities.
And for her extraordinary contribution in her encore career, Broder was awarded the 2009 Purpose Prize at a gala event in Palo Alto, CA.
How she’s helping:
A 35-year-old veteran came to The Soldiers Project after a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. He couldn’t drive on his own because overpasses frightened him. He suffered from flashbacks, bursts of terror, and nightmares, his volunteer therapist recalls.
The veteran’s marriage to a high school sweetheart was unraveling. Therapy ranged from dealing with memories of violence at the hands of his father to recollections of brutal firefights in Iraq and the killing of an Iraqi family, his therapist says. His central struggle was between the image of himself as "hulk" and killer and his softer self.
After many months, the volunteer says, the veteran’s post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms eased: "He brought his wife to sessions, and I saw his deep capacity to nurture, to show me and himself that he was not the monster he sometimes became."
Although Broder, 69, knew very little about the military health system before she started The Soldiers Project, she knew enough about how people react to trauma to be convinced that with more than a million soldiers returning to their old lives – sometimes after multiple deployments – there would be a need for help.
Broder says that The Soldiers Project helps soldiers come home in the fullest sense, not just physically but mentally.
"The people we provide care for are our family," she says. "They give to our country in ways that are unimaginable, and the wounds they carry are hidden and forgotten by most of the population. My passion is to be an advocate for them, to teach them, and provide the care they need."
The Purpose Prize is awarded each year to ten social innovators over the age of 60 who are compelled to put their passion to work in an encore career. Read about the winners of the 2009 Purpose Prize, or nominate yourself or someone you know for the 2010 Purpose Prize. Nominations are open until March 5, 2010.
photo: Judith Broder