As the world discovered in early 2020, life can change quickly. With COVID-19 spreading rapidly across the U.S., many schools, businesses, and military institutions closed their doors to traditional practices of staying connected. Suddenly, most of the world went into isolation and lost social connection.
With the loss of social connection, stress and anxiety levels rose. So did the feeling of loneliness.
In 2022, a new study reported by the American Institute of Stress found that the stress levels of ALL Americas is still rising rapidly, “mostly due to a bundle reasons, including the COVID-19 pandemic, rising inflation, and the Russia-Ukraine crisis.” And more than 60 percent of adults feel “lonely.”
So, how does one combat stress, anxiety and loneliness?
Through proactive “buddy checks” and “staying in touch.”
Mindy Altschul, LCSW, Assistant Vice President Clinical Quality, Hackensack Meridian Health Carrier Clinic, recently shared that, “Being connected to others socially is considered an important human need and is vital to one’s well-being.”
According to J. Holt-Lunstad, who was referenced in The Annual Review of Psychology, “having positive social connections can help people to improve and maintain good mental health.”
While nothing replaces “8 hugs a day” (the secret to true human connection), having the means and a plan to communicate with loved ones through the internet is a top five contender.
And although computers and handheld devices are common within the American household, millions of rural, urban, and low-income families lack home access to broadband internet due to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) policies and their current model of regulating internet access like a utility telephone service (Spector, 2019).
Currently, there are 42 million Americans, including service members and Department of the Army (DA) Civilians, who lack access to broadband internet (Busby & Tanberk, 2021).
But in the Pacific Northwest, in late 2021, Comcast Washington deployed a one-year pilot program to help connect low-income military and Veteran families to low-cost internet and the benefits and services they’ve earned.
And the impact was profound.
Operation Military Family identified more than 20 Veteran recipients through Heroes Homestead in Eastern Washington who needed laptops to perform job searches, and some who were directly impacted by the shut-down, also took advantage of the low-cost internet to offset their rising expenses.
Jake (not real name) drove an hour from a remote part of Eastern Washington to Spokane to participate in an hour-long event and shared how the laptop and connectivity would allow him to search for jobs and apply for his benefits from his home instead of driving to the library, which is 45 minutes from his home. The time savings alone reduced his anxiety and the savings on fuel would put more food on his table.
Because of the success of the pilot, in November 2022, Comcast Washington once again teamed up with Operation Military Family and donated 200 laptops, along with $20,000, and a Digital Skills Guide and support to help our military and veteran families stay better connected. The initiative is part of Project UP, Comcast’s $1 billion commitment to reach 50 million people over the next 10 years with the tools, resources, and skills needed to succeed in a digital world.
The collaborative effort between Operation Military Family, a 501c3 that has successfully served more than 10,000 veterans and their families since 2012, and Comcast, which has donated more than $184 million in cash and in-kind contributions to military community organizations since 2011, is a model for success.
“We’re honored to partner with Operation Military Family. This organization has made a powerful impact with Veterans across the state of Washington. And we are honored to help them build digital equity at a time when it has never been more important,” said Carla Carrell, External Affairs Senior Director for Comcast in Washington.
The program was explained in detail in the episode ‘The Power of Staying Connected / Accessing Low-cost Internet for Veterans’ of The Military Wire.
The need to improve the state of mental and emotional health, and to stay connected, has never been more important than now. But like anything good, moderation is important. A “digital sunset” should also be part of your day – learning to “unplug” and find those quiet moments is just important. Just not for long periods of time.
For those Veterans who live in Washington State and are interested in participating in the Digital Equity Program with Operation Military Family, submit your request and information to www.WASERVES.org and reference both the Digital Equity Program and Operation Military Family. Qualifying Veterans will receive a laptop (while supplies last) along with access to low-cost, high-speed internet and training.
Since 2012, OMF Community Outreach, dba Operation Military Family, has directly helped thousands of Veterans and their families connect to benefits and forge proven and effective paths that lead to success in family, work, and life through its collaborative WASERVES collective impact initiative and the Discovering Your Post-Service Identity program.
Comcast employs more than 21,000 military veterans, and in 2020, Comcast NBCUniversal was ranked number one on Military Times’ “Best for Vets: Employers list.” Comcast’s tradition of hiring and supporting the military community started with founder, World War II U.S. Navy veteran Ralph Roberts. Comcast puts significant effort into supporting military Veterans and their families at all stages of their careers, which led to Comcast being named a “Military Friendly Employer” and a “Military Friendly Spouse Employer” by Military Times.