In 2017, the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation generously supported a national training project at the Institute of Medical Research entitled “Equipping Faith Communities and Clergy to Care for Veterans and Persons with Mental Health Problems.”  Implemented through the VHA’s Mental Health and Chaplaincy national program office, 13 training events were held across the United States. These Collaborating in Care: Ministry and Mental Health events reached 448 clergy and mental health professional attendees. In an additional arm of the project, 30 faith communities had small groups in their congregations participate in a 4-week A Place to Call Home video discussion series, which focused on enhancing belonging for veterans and persons with mental health struggles.  Delivered by an interdisciplinary team of faculty, that included clergy and mental health professionals, the result of the project included the identification of at least one point of contact from each event and faith community who continues to report on services and community network development.

Fast forward to today. The Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation offered their existing grantees special emergency COVID19 grants of up to $20,000.  In his proposal to BMSF, Dr. Jason Nieuwsma, Associate Director of MHC noted, “The Kaiser Family Foundation has reported that percentage of Americans stating that COVID 19 is having a negative impact on their mental health rose from 32% in mid-March to 45% in late March, a number likely to rise further. Faith communities are also struggling to find their footing. While many are finding ways to attend religious services “virtually,” 59% reported in a Pew Foundation survey attending less often as a result of the pandemic.  Our A Place to Call Home series explored how to promote “belonging” for veterans and persons with mental health struggles through building community networks. These connections can become new lifelines of support.”

Awarded the emergency funding in April 2020, Mental Health and Chaplaincy staff will reach out to points of contacts in 20 states who have established linkages to larger communities within their congregations and interprofessional clergy-mental health circles.  They will assess current community needs amid the pandemic, supply brief supportive care, and share different national and local resources as appropriate.  “It is rewarding to see the project expanded to assist during this crisis.  We are very grateful to the Foundation for their ongoing commitment to veterans”, stated Mary Powell, Executive Director of the Institute for Medical Research.  For more information about the program contact