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In January, we interviewed Lynn Brannon, State Coordinator of the Building Healthy Military Communities Program in Florida, and Captain Amy Green, Florida State Family Program Director. We discussed the initial goals of the program and the issues they were working to address. (If you misses that interview you can check it out here.) Today we’d like to provide an update on the program’s progress with notes from a Q&A session we had with Lynn. 


Can you provide an update on what BHMC has been working on since our interview in January?

I have continued to make connections with resources in communities all over the State and with all branches of our military. I am currently working on a collaboration with the YMCA, USO and Feeding Northeast Florida. One of the things we are collaborating together on is an event centered on back to school and healthy living for the whole family. The areas we are concentrating on are financial, nutritional, physical and spiritual, to include our single SM’s that are college students.


When we last spoke, you had just met with the Director of University of Florida Extension, what has developed with that partnership?

We are still looking at ways to truly partner. I am attending the Cooperative Extension symposium next week and Dr. Gutter is introducing me to some key leaders for their Financial Master Mentor program & 4-H. We are also looking at the food insecurity areas of our State. I have provided Dr. Gutter with a list of the top 5 food insecure counties along with the SM demographics for those counties. Our goal is to create a pilot program to address food insecurities in those counties first. BHMC’s focus will be on the military families that fall into the “food insecure” area in those counties. Most food insecurities are due to limited funds, so we are reaching out to our Feeding America organizations in Florida along with the YMCA and other local service providers willing to be distribution points. Partnering with these organizations will allow us to build a program that will provide the assistance without the stigma.


If there were one thing, a wish from a genie if you will, that cooperative extension could help you with in your efforts, what would it be?

Volunteers/manpower, a “boots on ground” force multiplier in training, organizing events and community partnerships, recruiting new service providers and holding seminars that our Service Members and their Families can take part in and last but not least, CHILDCARE. I know that Dr. Gutter is so willing to be a part of this project and would like to see the impact in our military population from the programs we partner together on.


What are the other partnerships that you are finding to be essential to implementing BHMC in FL?

Humana’s Bold Goal program is a community collaboration program. Their goals are to improve the health and wellness of individuals with a preventative program. Jacksonville Bold Goal is concentrating on diabetes and mental health. Tampa Gold Goal is concentrating on diabetes and food insecurity. We are meeting with Broward next month. I also feel that in NEFL the YMCA is a great partner. They offer their Healthy Living Centers and Health Coaches for free and they have offered their 5 different locations in NE Florida to us for meetings/events. There are quite a few others that have great programs to offer and we are still working toward building that “partner” relationship because true partnership goes past programs. I have also worked closely with Doug Leonardo with BayCare Behavioral Health to understand the gap in behavioral healthcare in our communities. Partnerships might cost something outside of the “business as usual” mindset. You know, you might have to color outside the lines sometimes, go outside of your comfort zone to reach a different population. But the reward is a program that offers measurable change!


The initial phases of the BHMC plan include an assessment of the challenges faced by service members in Florida, when we last spoke you had identified the following issues: 1) Financial readiness – underemployment, service members working multiple jobs to meet financial needs; 2) Childcare availability. Can you talk about what steps BHMC is taking to address those issues?

Yes, the financial piece is not always an easy fix. We have great organizations that offer free financial counseling but the assistance piece or emergency fund is the hard part. We have identified agencies that help to meet some short term financial emergencies but what we would like to see, is for them to get a reprieve in their financial situation which will allow them to think “outside the box” of debt.

While working with Feeding NEFL and the USO and YMCA we have located some great avenues to assist our Sm’s and Families. One “out of the box” idea would be to help those that have asked for financial assistance by providing food for them and their families for 4-6 weeks. The money they would normally use for food they could place on a debt or that emergency. With the excess, the PFC or Personal Financial Counselor could show them how to start paying down debt and/or invest for their future.

The YMCA has a location next door to Camp Blanding Joint Training Center where SM’s could utilize their services for childcare during drill and possibly AT. I have also identified a possible resource for childcare that is a State organization. The Early Learning Coalition, who also work with the University of Florida, could be a great resource to assist us with childcare. I will be discussing this with the Cooperative Extension department at the symposium next week.

I have met with an organization who is actually nationwide that helps link SM’s military jobs to the civilian world. This will help that SM and FM locate jobs that are in their expertise and that could assist them with making more money. This program also assists with increasing their education and with certification courses which will help them make more money. This organization also works with Onward to Opportunity that also assists in obtaining certifications.


Do the issues of financial readiness and childcare remain the top priority, or have you identified other issues that BHMC is working to address?

Yes both of those are still big concerns but I have also found another issue that is a big topic and one that we have identified as a gap in service.  Locating Community based Behavioral and Psychological Health and Substance Abuse Providers. I mentioned that earlier but we have found that the SM and/or FM aren’t able to locate a facility that takes Tri-Care in the community and they are not going to an Active Duty installation for help. I have met with the Florida Behavioral Health Association and received a survey they completed strictly for BHMC. This survey helps to understand what these community based organizations are seeing, doing and understand about the military community.

There is a misunderstanding about the needs of the military community as it relates to behavioral health. One of the big breakdowns is in the insurance for these SM’s and families for behavioral health care access. We do have MOS and other “free” organizations that can assist with some forms of “non-medical” counseling but when it breaches the berm of medical, to include a diagnosis, there isn’t much available. We are working to understand these challenges for the provider while working to recognize the providers in their communities or surrounding communities that could offer this type of service no matter what insurance they have.


Can you describe what an average day looks like as BHMC State Coordinator in Florida? 

Everyday looks different. As the information about BHMC spreads, the meetings and trainings I hold open the doors for more meetings. I vet resources and place these resources in our Service Provider Network. A lot of what I do, is brief organizations and service providers, military Family Programs and leadership about the BHMC’s mission and vision. Some of our community organizations need an understanding about the different service branches and Titles (Title 10, & 32 especially). I am currently working on getting to every branch of service’s leadership to brief them on BHMC. I never have a dull or boring day! I have a full calendar of organizational meetings, conference calls, board of director meetings and workgroup meetings with the military and community service providers. I do believe that I am uncovering issues, which is part of the process. Once those issues are uncovered then I can locate the resource to correct those issues. I am also working on our State’s Strategic Plan. I look forward to being able to measure the effectiveness of these new resources. I believe that our SPN will re-energize, stabilize and ready our SM’s and Families, by knowing there are local, community resources available to them when and if they are needed.


We’d like to thank Lynn Brannon and the BHMC Florida Team for sharing this update on their progress. It is a great opportunity to explore community capacity building as the process develops and we look forward to further coverage in the future!