2020 Tillman Scholar

Joeanne Thomas

Marine Corps
University of Maryland

“I want to change the landscape of the mental health field for veterans through recreational therapy.”

Leaving the world better than she found it is the lifelong goal for Joeanne, so joining the Marine Corps was an easy choice. During her service, she learned of the large population of active duty and veterans who struggled with their mental health. After the birth of her daughter, Joeanne realized she could make a bigger impact elsewhere and left the service to pursue an education in psychology. Serving those who served became central to her goal. 

During her undergraduate education, Joeanne also worked on a crisis hotline, which exposed her to the struggle those with mental health issues face in the system. Often speaking to veterans, they told her of the stress they had trying to find a therapist or mental health care from which they could start to heal. 

After finishing her undergraduate degree at the University of Maryland, Joeanne became a veteran wellness assistant in student affairs and continued her crisis intervention training. However, she realized that crisis intervention is a band-aid solution and saw how much work needed to be done in the mental health care system. It was then that she was introduced to Team River Runner, a nonprofit organization that aims to promote health and healing through paddlesports. After meeting numerous veterans who shared how spending time in nature helped reduce the impact of their mental illness, it became clear to Joeanne how much recreational therapy helped veterans. Now she is on a mission to make recreational therapy available for all veterans.