Q&A with Robin King, CEO of The Navy SEAL Foundation
and member of the Veterans Advisory Council
Cohen Veterans Bioscience and The Navy SEAL Foundation are two organizations who share a common vision of evidence-informed research to improve treatments and lives for the active duty and Veterans community. The two organizations have collaborated on projects and events over the past few years and most recently, Robin King, CEO of the Navy SEAL Foundation, was appointed to the Veterans Advisory Council (VAC).
We had the opportunity to speak with Robin about why she joined VAC, her role on the Council and what Veterans issues she’d like VAC to address in 2020.
Who/what inspired you to join our Veterans Advisory Council (VAC)?
I was inspired to join VAC because of two incredible people: Rear Admiral Brian Losey (SEAL) Ret., and Dr. Magali Haas, CEO of Cohen Veterans Bioscience.
I met ADM Losey when he was still on active duty and was impressed with his approach to problem-solving. Brian brings clarity to complex problems and knows how to dissect issues and create action steps for organizations such as mine – the Navy SEAL Foundation (NSF).
Magali Haas spoke at the NSF’s Whole Warrior Health Impact Forum. Her scientific work with biomarkers was fascinating and I have longed to work with her since then. Magali is passionate about providing impactful, factual information about brain trauma that will help the world help the Veteran community.
What do you see as the most urgent need/s in Veterans’ brain health and mental health research?
I feel it is most important to understand career-long blast exposure for our Veterans population. In my position as CEO of NSF, I’ve seen requests for support from warriors with undiagnosed brain issues. These men will tell you that they know something is wrong in how they are processing information. They can no longer remember simple tasks, or they can’t process how to accomplish these tasks. They need to understand why this is happening to them. They need to know that we are working on solving their problems. But more than anything, we need to ensure the next generation of Veterans doesn’t have to deal with the blast-effects problem. If it’s preventable, then let’s learn the exposure limits and help the military modify training. War is war and many aspects are uncontrollable. But training is developed, executed, and led. The impact can be controlled.
Have you seen any improvement in the de-stigmatization of depression, PTSD and/or brain trauma among Veterans and active duty military?
Absolutely yes. Naval Special Warfare leadership has spent the last few years learning from experts and incorporating brain and mental health best practices into training and life in NSW. These leaders have been vulnerable with their community sharing stories of having to ‘take a knee’ and deal with their brain and mental health issues. They have made mental health part of what they WANT to talk about with the warriors, and they are making it courageous to ask for help.
Do you believe Veterans and active duty military are still motivated to hide their struggles with depression, PTSD, brain trauma, and suicidal thoughts?
I do believe there are some team room misnomers that are hard to overcome, and that still exists regarding what happens if you ask for help. The idea that military guys only talk to military guys needs to stop. These are highly intelligent people and we should challenge them to be courageous with their care. People in need must be connected with experts, and our buddies should encourage that to happen. If talking alone could solve our problems, we’d have no brain/mental health issues.
What mental health initiatives, including those led by the Navy SEAL Foundation, have been the most impactful over the past few years?
Five years ago, the Navy SEAL Foundation launched our Whole Warrior Health Collective Impact Forum. Through our Forum, we have seen tremendous gains in mental and brain health awareness, programmatic support, the flow of information, and collaboration among diverse groups. We are honored to build upon that foundation by addressing the adverse consequences of bad science information and practices, furthering our understanding regarding the effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI), demonstrating the correlation between TBIs and suicide, training in suicide prevention, and expanding how we care for and inform our military community.
How has your role as a military spouse been important to your leadership with this Veteran community?
I think my role as a military spouse has given me some credibility with some community members, and I think that can be very useful. But, my ability to work in this space really comes from the great team I work with at the Navy SEAL Foundation as well as the incredible people I have gotten to know through my position with the Foundation. I try to learn from the experts. I listen to the families. And I lean hard on science. We all want to find solutions to Veterans’ issues; and, I am focused on ensuring we listen to the data, advance the science, and do no harm to our Veteran population.
What impact do you think the VAC can have on advocacy and policy that affects the Veterans community?
I think the VAC can have a tremendous impact on advocacy and policy. The VAC is committed to collaboration, information sharing and science. The goals are noble, and we have some of the most incredible people on the team. I am in awe of their knowledge and the passion with which they want to solve problems. It’s hard not to want to support this effort, and I believe we will be very successful in implementing positive policy changes.
Do you think the threat of COVID-19 and confinement has exacerbated the conditions of Veterans and active-duty military who struggle with mental health issues?
At this point, it’s hard to say if confinement has exacerbated mental health issues in our community. We haven’t seen an uptick in our support requests, and we are doing our best to ease the strain with some new support programs. We are all in this together, and we hope that strength carries all of us through this crisis.
How has COVID-19 and containment affected your ability to carry on your work at the Foundation?
The Navy SEAL Foundation is very agile. So, while we’ve had to postpone or cancel some of our in-person gatherings, we’ve created new programs that specifically address the challenges created by the virus. We’ve got families of deployed service members who are also health care workers. We have new moms whose families can’t be with them to help. And we’ve got extended deployments. NSF created our Family Assistance Program to help in situations like these and more. While we miss seeing everyone’s faces, we are still here supporting the Naval Special Warfare community.