Advocating for Veteran’s Mental Health

“Being in infantry, I’ve been on several combat deployments and experienced life-or-death situations multiple times,” explains Sergeant Joseph “Joe” Barbato, a sub advocate for JBWS’ Emergency Safe House. “The people you serve with in those situations become your brothers and sisters. It’s a bond you can’t even explain until you experience it.”


For the last fifteen years, Joe has served in the New Jersey Army National Guard and has been deployed four times. He served in Iraq (2008-2009), Afghanistan (2011-2012), Bahrain (2014-2015), and Somalia (2019) before being activated for the COVID-19 Mission Support from 2020-2022.


Between deployments and other active-duty service, Joe earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work. Inspired by admiration for his father, who was a social worker for Medicaid and DYFS (now called the Division of Child Protection and Permanency), Joe decided to enter the field as well.


“Every job I have centers around helping people,” explains Joe. “I just think that if I’m able-bodied, then I want to help.”


In addition to his military service and support for JBWS, Joe is a social worker at Veteran’s Haven North, an organization that helps veterans experiencing homelessness. Joe’s personal experience with the military helps him connect with this population because of the similarities in their experiences and emotions.


“When you’re deployed, your loved ones go on without you, they learn to live without you. It’s difficult to watch that happen and it makes reintegrating into society tough,” says Joe.


To help others in this situation, Joe hopes to transition from infantry and into Army social work once he becomes a licensed clinical social worker. In this capacity, Joe will meet with soldiers during their periodic health assessment (PHA) and assist them with any issues they may be experiencing.


“I’ve lost a few friends of mine in combat overseas and I’ve lost a few to suicide state-side,” says Joe. “Sometimes people return from deployment in one piece but there are scars inside that not everyone knows.”


However, equating mental health struggles with weakness can prevent some veterans from getting the help they need. That is why Joe feels strongly about breaking the stigma around mental health in the military and speaks openly about his own experiences with therapy.


“There is this negative stigma around mental health in the military,” says Joe. “But if you’re struggling, it isn’t a problem to ask for help, it’s a sign of strength and it’s benefited me a lot.”


If you are a veteran experiencing mental health struggles, the Veterans Crisis Line offers free, confidential support 24/7. Dial 988 and Press 1 or send a text to 838255