by Jordan Chapman
For those who have never served, it’s hard to imagine what life in the military is like. The military world is filled with restrictions and rules, training, family stress, deployment, friends and enemies made, constant vigilance and even battles, suicides and loss of companions. It’s a world Marilyn Paul, Ph.D., clinical assistant with Adelphi’s School of Social Work at the Hudson Valley Center, first walked into at a Veterans Affairs (VA) office some years ago.
Dr. Paul described her feelings after her first visit to the VA as one of overwhelming lost time. She had been a practicing social worker for almost 20 years, and she had no professional training or experience working with veterans. She felt she lacked knowledge of veterans’ issues and hoped to have the opportunity to change this.
Her desire to help veterans has led to the launch, in October 2013, of the Postgraduate Certificate Program in Military Trauma offered by the School of Social Work Department of Continuing Education at Adelphi’s Hudson Valley Center School of Social Work.
The program will train licensed master’s- or doctoral-level mental health practitioners to assist in the ever-present and growing need to address post-war issues. Course topics will include anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide, sexual assault, homelessness, traumatic brain injury, mutual aid and polytraumatic and catastrophic injuries. Students will have the opportunity to visit the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center.
The importance of this program is clear. “We had two wars going on, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Everyone who will ever work in social work will have some involvement in military. It is likely that either their client, or someone in their client’s family will be a veteran,” Dr. Paul said.
She first started hearing stories of social work practice with the veteran population and their families when she worked as a liaison and adviser for students who were being placed in internships at the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center in 2010.
Since then, military mental health incidents have increased. CBS News reported in 2012 that Army suicides were up 80 percent, and that out of the 255 soldiers who had committed suicide, 17 percent of them had been previously diagnosed with a mental health issue, while 50 percent had visited a mental health professional in the past. And according to a May 16, 2013, front-page story in The New York Times, “the military may be undercounting the problem because of the way it calculates its suicide rate.”
Veterans aren’t the only ones in the family who are exposed to the incredible stress that a soldier goes through. It’s often expressed that the role of army wife is the hardest job in the military. According to Dr. Paul, something had to be done to try and assist veterans and their families in the region.
Eileen Chadwick, director of Adelphi’s Hudson Valley Program; Diann Cameron Kelly, associate professor, chair and one of the editors of Treating Young Veterans: Promoting Resilience Through Practice and Advocacy; and Dr. Paul, among others, convened to discuss, put together and promote their first conference, “Social Work Practice with Veterans Through the Lifespan.”
Social work students, Adelphi alumni, agency personnel and area private practitioners sold out the event, which focused on such topics as deployment, reintegration and end-of-life care.
Following a second sold-out conference focusing on veteran families, Dr. Paul said that she and her colleagues knew it was necessary to introduce something greater than annual conferences. “We have people who want real, in-depth clinical training they can take with them through their careers,” she said.