Mental health advocate named Base Spouse of the Year

Maureen Elias, a military spouse and veteran, is the Fort Meade Base Spouse of the Year. A mental health advocate, Elias is working to write a bill for a pilot study to use holistic therapies for service members and veterans with PTSD. (Photo by Lisa L. Rhodes)

Since January, Maureen Elias — a Fort Meade military spouse — has been visiting Capitol Hill to garner support from members of Congress for a bill she is writing.

The proposed legislation will allow the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs to establish a pilot study on the effects of holistic therapies on the treatment of active-duty service members and veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Elias’ work on Capitol Hill is one of the reasons why she was nominated and selected to be Fort Meade’s Base Spouse of the Year.

“I think it’s really cool,” said Elias, wife of Capt. Dustin Elias of the 902nd Military Intelligence Group, and herself a veteran.

“… I think a lot of times military spouses [are] heavily involved in the community and end up volunteering a lot. That doesn’t always get recognized. We move so often that by the time it’s ready for recognition, we’re not there anymore.

“The whole purpose of the Military Spouse of the Year is to raise public awareness of how military spouses contribute to the base as well as the community.”

Service To The Community

The recognition is part of the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year competition, which was established by Military Spouse Magazine in 2008.

Published by Victoria Media, the publication is a national magazine and online destination for the nation’s 1.1 million military spouses, according to its website. Victoria Media is a service-disabled, veteran-owned small business located in Moon Township, Penn.

The Military Spouse of the Year Award has honored hundreds of military spouses for their advocacy and support within the military community, according to the Armed Forces Insurance website.

For the competition, military spouses are nominated by a non-family member. Nominations are collected and organized by a military base, district or state by Military Spouse Magazine.

Nominees with the highest online popular vote on each base, district or state is named the respective winner and can move on to be named military spouse of their respective service branch and the national title.

Elias was named Fort Meade’s Base Spouse of the Year, along with 12 other military spouses representing military installations across the country.

A native of Yakima, Wash., Elias is the third of 11 children. During her first year at Pierce College of Puyallup, Wash., Elias won a trip to Washington, D.C., and visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. She was so moved by the experience that she decided to enlist in the Army in 2001.

Elias completed her basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., and went on to Advanced Individual Training at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., where she met her husband.

The couple married in 2001, and four years later studied Korean at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif.

Maureen Elias, who served as a counterintelligence agent, separated from the Army in 2006.

The couple are the parents of three children — Michael, 14; Gabrielle, 12; and Coraline, 6. All three children have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic, autism spectrum disorder is a serious neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs a child’s ability to communicate and interact.

Her husband went on to serve during an unaccompanied tour in Korea and later deployed to Afghanistan. The family has lived in Darmstadt, Germany; Fort Ord, Calif, Fort Huachuca, Ariz.; Puyallup, Wash.; and Fort Bragg, N.C. They moved to Fort Meade in 2015.

A graduate student at Bowie State University, Elias is completing a degree in mental health counseling. She plans to work with veterans and military families.

Elias said raising children with autism sparked her interest in mental health issues, and that her experience as a veteran and military spouse makes her sensitive to the needs of military personnel, veterans and military families who struggle with mental health disorders.

“Being a veteran and military spouse, that gives me an extra level of empathy and understanding,” Elias said. “I understand the struggles that military families go through, so I think that puts me in a special place to counsel veterans and military families.”

Holistic Therapies For PTSD

At BSU, Elias is also president of the university’s chapter of the Students Veterans Association, a chapter of Student Veterans of America. The nonprofit organization has student chapters across the country that help veterans to succeed in higher education and beyond.

She is also vice president of internal affairs for the Graduate Student Association and president of the National Counseling Examination/Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Exam, which provides a social study setting for students who are preparing for required examinations in the mental health field.

Elias is also secretary of the Women’s Veterans United Committee, Inc., a national women’s veterans organization.

In the fall, she was selected as a fellow with High Ground Veterans Advocacy, an organization based in Washington, D.C., that works to empower service members and veterans to become advocates and leaders in the nation’s capital, their states and local communities, according to its website.

As a fellow, Elias participated in a weeklong advocacy seminar where she met and worked with representatives from the nation’s largest military and veteran-service organizations and learned how the lawmaking process works in Congress.

With her interest in mental health issues, Elias began working with Dr. Tom Berger, executive director of the Veterans Health Council for the Vietnam Veterans of America, a congressionally chartered organization devoted to serving Vietnam veterans. Berger is an expert on PTSD.

Elias analyzed research on holistic therapies for PTSD, and with Berger’s help refined a policy proposal and draft white sheet for a pilot study. Her research found that art therapy, yoga and meditation, and nature-based activities have been successful in improving the quality of life for 70 percent of PTSD patients.

That’s why Elias said the DoD and Department of VA should study holistic therapies and eventually develop treatment protocols for service members and veterans.

Elias said that these therapies “treat the whole person rather than just the symptoms.”

Elias took her proposal to Capitol Hill and has the support of several members of Congress, including Rep. Tim Ryan of the 13th District of Ohio. She is now working with Navy Lt. Cmdr. Valerie Broznak, a Defense Legislative Fellow in Ryan’s office, to draft a bill.

Amber Clayton, a civilian who met Elias when she was stationed at Fort Bragg, is a friend for more than seven years and nominated Elias for Fort Meade Base Spouse of the Year.

“What makes Maureen an exceptional military spouse is her determination and her strong desire to advocate for what she believes,” said Clayton, who resides in Pinehurst, N.C.

“Everything Maureen does is for the benefit of others. She will use this honor to bring more awareness to her passion for veteran’s care,” Clayton said.

Elias said she intends to use her title to help other Fort Meade spouses find their voices in the advocacy world.

“I think it’s very empowering and necessary,” she said.

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