Maureen Elias

Branch: Army

Duty Station: Fort-Meade

Number of Deployments: 1

Number of PCS's: 8

About the nominee: I am originally from Washington state, but the question of where you are from becomes complicated after so many military relocations. I am number three of a family of eleven children, seven of which were adopted. In my first year of college, I won a trip to Washington DC. I visited the Vietnam Memorial and was so moved by the emotions and feelings I had there I became determined to join the service. I ended up joining the US Army to be a counterintelligence agent. It was in the Advanced Individualized Training (AIT) that I met the love of my life. We got married during the last month of our training with our drill sergeant and company commander in attendance. We have been married for 15 years and have three beautiful children, all of which have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum disorder. I am a master’s candidate at Bowie State University for mental health counseling. Currently, I also serve as the President of the Student Veterans Association and the Vice President of the Graduate Student Association at my university. Throughout fall and winter, I began a fellowship with High Grounds Veterans Advocacy to petition our congress to increase alternative, holistic methods of therapy for veterans suffering from PTSD. During this time, I met with members of both the United States House and Senate and am currently working with members to introduce a Bill to increase holistic treatment options for our veterans and military service members. After my degree, I would like to work with service members and their families because I feel they have a special situation and would do well counseling with someone who understands their particular circumstances. I can relate to many of the challenging circumstances military families face. My husband has been geographically separated from our family due to military assignments for almost half of our marriage. Our children have been forced to leave behind precious friendships as we relocated over and over again. I have a strong sense of determination. I will finish what I start and not allow others to tell me that I cannot accomplish anything. When I made the decision to join the service, I was consistently told I would not be a good fit for the military lifestyle. But I excelled in the Army and was often promoted before my peers. I graduated in the top of my class in Korean, a difficult language program with a failure rate of 60%. I had my third child in my junior year of college while maintaining a GPA of 4.0. My friends joke that I do not know the meaning of the word no.

Hobbies: My family’s favorite activity is going to Six Flags. As parents, we enjoy the time away from screens and phones and the time to bond as a family unit. I love to sing and have enjoyed being a member of the gospel choir at my university. I am a voracious reader and often am working through several books at the same time.

Interesting Facts: My mother often jokes that the easiest way to get me to do something is to tell me I cannot do it. Even as a young child, I would not let anything stop me from accomplishing my desires. I was born with cleft lip and palate and have undergone 14 surgeries to repair my cleft along with years of speech therapy. The doctors warned my mother that due to the severity of my cleft, I may never be able to speak clearly, let alone sing. I have since performed at various venues, won vocal contests, and taught voice lessons for over 18 years.

What is something you’ve learned from being a military spouse? One of the most important things I have learned as a military spouse is to be flexible. Whether it be the flexibility of moving to one location when we were tracking a completely different location, or a husband being sent out of state for a month of training within days of his returning home from Afghanistan. When things do not go according to plan, I make plans go according to change. This lesson has proved invaluable in the last 15 years we have been in the service.

In your opinion, what is one of the most important issues facing military families? One of the most important things impacting military families today is PTSD and the effect of this disorder on service members’ families. The more knowledge service members have of PTSD and the services available to them, the more likely to seek out these services and lift the stigma of searching for help. One of the reasons service members do not seek out help is the belief that they did not “have it as bad” as other service members so they can’t have PTSD. Also, current treatment methods focus on the trauma of what they experienced, which can cause aversion to seeking out help. Holistic therapies focus more on resiliency and building on the strengths of the service member. The VA and DoD need to engage in adjunctive therapy for PTSD, which is proven to improve recovery of combat veterans by more than double the current therapies alone. This is something I am working to change. That's why I started an advocacy campaign with High Ground Veterans Advocacy. The advocacy work I am doing Is focused on bringing holistic treatment options for military service members and veterans. I spend much of my available time on the phone, computer, and at Capitol Hill working to bring this change about. I have had support from members of the House and the Senate, both Republican and Democratic as well as support from several major veteran service organizations.

What is one of the best aspects of being in a military family? Once of the best aspects of being a military family is that we have learned to embrace different cultures and experiences. Whether those differences are cultural, religious, political, or opinion, everyone has something we can learn from. Different points of view on life expand our worldview. We are always excited to go exploring in our new community and see what kinds of activities, events, and people we can become involved with. In a nation where differences are becoming a polarizing factor, military families have learned to see these differences not as a challenge or threat to their own way of life, but a way of building a more diverse and inclusive life.

What is one thing you want to accomplish with the Military Spouse of the Year title? With the Military Spouse of the Year title, I would work to bring awareness to the need for adjunctive therapy for service members struggling with PTSD. I would work to reduce the stigma of seeking services for PTSD as well as increase awareness of what the symptoms of PTSD include. I would also help military families of service members seek out and receive services. Research has shown that PTSD can have negative and lasting effects on family members and effects marital adjustment, the general functioning of the family, and the mental health of the spouse. I would love the opportunity to empower military spouses to find the power of their voices as advocates and use them.

Reasons for nominating:

She is an outstanding veteran and spouse -- Hector Moncada, Friend

As a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, and now a veterans' rights attorney for the past several years, I'm impressed by Maureen’s hard work and dedication, and I strongly urge you to name her Military Spouse of the Year. She has been a great advocate for veterans and military families, and she's active in the veterans community and is advocating for holistic therapies at the VA for veterans suffering from PTSD. I have watched her skillfully speak with members of Congress and congressional staff and build rapport necessary to be an effective advocate. I value her advice and I admire her for her passion and the values she stands for. People trust her and respect her opinions. She's a bright and hardworking individual, all while balancing her role as wife and mother, and she is someone that the veterans community should look to as a rising veterans' advocate. As a father, I recognize the importance of setting an example of not only for our peers but for today’s youth, and she does just that. Maureen inspires me and other veterans. -- Nebojsa "Vic" Zlatanovic, Colleague

To Whom It May Concern: My fellow veteran, friend and colleague, Maureen Elias is a committed mother and Army wife, and passionate Veterans advocate. For nearly half of their fifteen-year marriage, Maureen has been geographically separated from her husband due to deployments and trainings. She is the mother to three special needs children (autism). In addition to caring for her family, Maureen is full time student at Bowie State University where she maintains a 4.0 GPA while pursuing a master’s degree in mental health counseling. She is involved with a number of student organizations, including the Student Veterans Association, of which she serves as group President. For one of her initiatives, Maureen is working with university staff and the VA to develop a paid internship program for student veterans. Recently, Maureen and her husband represented Operation Purple families at the National Military Family Association annual luncheon. And in January 2017, Maureen stormed the hill as a fellow with High Ground Veterans Advocacy, where she spoke to Senators and Representatives about a proposal of her creation that would include holistic and nature-based treatments for injured combat veterans through the VA healthcare system Maureen Elias is an amazing person, and I am honored to nominate her for the Military Spouse of the Year. Very respectfully, Semper fi, Tyson Manker Attorney at Law -- Tyson Manker, Colleague

Maureen is one of our nation’s most dedicated Army spouses, loving mothers, and fiercest advocates for service members and veterans. Maureen served as a counterintelligence agent, but elected to leave the military in 2006 in order to dedicate herself to being the best spouse and mother possible. In addition to positively contributing to the success of her husband’s military career, Maureen and her husband are raising three children on the spectrum for altruism. There is no doubt Maureen is tremendously successfully in her household roles as a spouse and mother. What is amazing and makes her truly worthy of the title of ‘Military Spouse of the Year,’ are her extracurricular efforts to strengthen her family by strengthening the support structures that add value to her family. This includes her efforts to advance her education. Maureen is currently near graduating with a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling at Bowie State University (BSU). In her capacity as a student, Maureen has been active in the leadership of several organizations, to include BSU's chapter of Student Veterans of America (SVA), which she recently represented at the National SVA Conference. Maureen views her graduate work as a complement to her efforts to become a stronger, more supportive spouse and mother. This same mission has lead Maureen to apply and be awarded a fellowship from High Ground Veterans Advocacy (HGVA). As a HGVA Fellow, Maureen works with some of our nation’s most respected veterans health care advocates, like Dr. Tom Berger, Executive Director, Veterans Health Council, in an effort to improve PTSD treatment for veterans. Maureen frequently meets with Members of Congress and their staffs in support of legislative efforts to increase veterans’ access to more holistic care. Simply put, Maureen is hands down one of our most outstanding military spouses. From her challenges at home, to her extraordinary efforts to strengthen her family by strengthening her extended support community, Maureen is truly deserving of the title ‘Military Spouse of the Year’. -- Joel L Garrison III, Colleague

Unending interest and energy toward achieving her desire to assist others and support her family. Maureen is both a disabled veteran and spouse with 3 children, two with special needs. She is pursuing a graduate degree in Counseling while serving as the President of the Student Veterans Association and the Vice President of the Graduate Student Association. She has move the SVA forward in a dramatic fashion since becoming President. She is working on a number of projects to support our student veterans. She is very involved with her children and takes care of the home front as her husband serves. I never see her giving up under stress or overwork. None of her responsibilities, home, family, education and the student veterans at her university. I often learn of projects and activities she has taken a part in through the publications of announcements on campus. She is everywhere. I have had the good fortune of meeting her family. They are very supportive of her studies and interests. She is the type of student that those in education hope for. Someone who is not only interested but pushes us to bring more to the discussion and lessons. She challenges us. She helps us to be a better institution. I without any reservations believe that she is deserving of this award. She is an outstanding example of a Military Spouse. -- Jerry Isaac, Colleague

I've known Maureen for several years since she and her family were stationed at Ft.Bragg, NC. She was the first military friend I had ever known and I was a little hesitant at first to become attached to someone I knew would be gone soon. But Maureen was just an amazing person and the more I got to know her the more grateful I became for her friendship. Maureen and her husband have 3 children, all on the autism spectrum. And since her husband has been deployed several times in the years I have known her, I've seen firsthand how she balances caring for 3 children with autism, enrolling in college to finish her bachelor's degree (while caring for her youngest daughter who was a newborn at the time), and after graduating, entering graduate school to earn her masters in mental health counseling. I have often joked about her having batteries in her back somewhere because I honestly don't know how she has accomplished all her roles as a wife, mother, student and advocate with such grace. She would be the first to point out every mistake and failure of her journey and wonders daily if she is being the best mom for her kids. Her children are functioning the high level they are now because Maureen doesn't believe in being a bystander in life. She relentlessly pursued every avenue open to her for autism awareness and advocacy, When those resources weren't readily available in our town she tirelessly drove her children to another county week after week, year after year, so they would have the best resources. In addition, Maureen is a highly dedicated advocate for veterans with PTSD. She serves in Bowie State University's student veterans organization and has traveled the country attending veterans conferences and seminars. Her area of focus is on incorporating holistic treatments in the area of PTSD. She recently interned in Washington DC, meeting with senators regarding her area of study and learning how to navigate the heart of Capital Hill. I truly believe Maureen Elias is more than deserving of this nomination. She has shown me what hard work and determination looks like. And it looks like I made the best decision of my life when I got to know a veteran. -- AMBER CLAYTON, Friend