Your Strongest Connection Ever: Interview with Dr. Sonja Batten - Part 1 of 3

Part 1 of 3:




Some people might tell you that your success depends on “who you know”. Others may stress the importance of “rubbing elbows with” important people. Still others say your future happiness rests on your ability to remain in the “In Crowd”. Guess what? You may not have recognized that you’re already in the midst of some of the most influential people that can help you – your Brothers & Sisters in Arms!


In this edition of GOING CIVILIAN, the topic is Family Matters: Interview With Dr. Sonja Batten, Deputy Chief Consultant for Specialty Mental Health, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Dr. Batten and her Team at the Department of Veterans Affairs remain committed to helping Veterans and Families in many ways!


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Charles “Chazz” Pratt III (CP3): Thank You for making time to share your story with the GOING CIVILIAN Community Dr. Batten! I got a chance to visit your website and I must say, you’ve created something highly personal with a strong peer-to-peer feel to it. How did Make the Connection come about?


Dr. Sonja Batten (Dr. SB): Thank you for contacting me to learn more about the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Make the Connection campaign. A lot of thought and work went into making it the resource you see today, and we’re very proud of it. We knew there was a need: A number of our nation’s Veterans—from those who served in World War II to those involved in current conflicts—return not only with physical wounds but also mental health or life challenges they may not recognize right away. VA talked to Veterans and looked at published literature, and we discovered that there were significant barriers that made some Veterans reluctant to reach out for mental health support.


The Make the Connection campaign was created to encourage Veterans and their families to “make the connection”—with the strength and resilience of Veterans like themselves, with other people, and with information and resources including mental health treatment. The campaign’s Veteran-to-Veteran approach is important: It allows Veterans to realize that there are others like them, that they are not alone, and that support and treatment can help.


CP3: Where many Veteran-centric websites use somewhat of a cookie-cutter approach, you’ve gone as far as to include some customization within your web design. In other words, anyone visiting your website has the added advantage of a more personal, individualized experience there. Tell me more about this.


Dr. SB: Customization is key to our Veteran-to-Veteran approach. We wanted to create a site that allowed Veterans to quickly and easily find information relevant to them. allows visitors to use interactive tools that let them tailor their findings based on gender, service era, military branch, and whether or not they saw combat. This gives Veterans insights into what is working for other Veterans like them. Based on their choices and preferences in navigating the site, they will be directed to information—including useful videos from people with similar experiences—and suggestions for concrete steps to take to address their situations and concerns, as well as carefully selected resources to explore.


For example, a woman who was a Soldier can visit the website and—anonymously and not stored, of course—enter the information that she is female, that she served during Operation Enduring Freedom with the U.S. Army, and that she was exposed to combat. The video content on the website’s information pages will then be filtered to reflect these characteristics. A male Marine who served in combat during the Vietnam War can also filter to match his information, and what appears online will be tailored to fit his experiences. By using the filter, the Veterans who explore will be able to find stories and experiences that they can relate to as part of the campaign’s Veteran-to-Veteran approach.


There is also a filter on the video gallery that allows visitors to sort video content based on topic. There are more than 40 topics, such as being a student Veteran, stress and anxiety, and effects of traumatic brain injury, that fall under the categories of “life events and experiences,” “signs and symptoms,” and “conditions.”


Visitors can find the stories that are most relevant to them by selecting as many or as few topics as they want. For example, the female Soldier I mentioned earlier could select “family and relationships” under life events and experiences, and “relationship problems” under signs and symptoms, and the videos that would come up would feature those two topics. This video gallery filter allows visitors to really focus more deeply and discover content for the topics that they are most interested in.


CP3: I noticed you have ways of connecting Veterans from specific Eras (i.e. WWI, WWII, Vietnam, Desert Era, OEF/OIF/OND). How do these Eras show similarities or differences?


Dr. SB: While all Veterans share the common bond of serving in the military, not all of them faced the same challenges while in the service and once they returned home. Because of this, it is important to highlight Veterans who served during a variety of service eras—from WWII to today’s conflicts—and faced different challenges. That way, every Veteran who visits should be able to find someone that he or she can relate to.


For example, a young Veteran experiencing problems related to military sexual trauma might not be able to relate to a WWII Veteran dealing with the death of family or friends. On the other hand, a Veteran who recently served in Iraq and was just diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder—PTSD—could perhaps relate to the stories and experiences of a Vietnam War Veteran who has been attending therapy for PTSD for years.


Whether a Veteran has been out of the military for decades or just came back from his or her first deployment, treatment can offer support and relief. Make the Connection drives that point home—the Veterans in our videos have very different backgrounds and experiences, but they were able to find support by reaching out and exploring treatment options.


This is the end of Part 1. Please continue reading Part 2.

1 Comment
Community Manager
Community Manager

Thank You for reading and sharing!


Thank You to Dr. Sonja Batten for this interview!