U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has referred to the dramatic increase of suicides, at a rate of one per day across all branches of the military, as an epidemic. More than half of today’s 30 million US veterans, including more than a million who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, have reported emotional problems.
Dominican University’s Graduate School of Social Work is tackling this problem through the initiation of a new military certificate program designed to help social workers understand the unique culture of military personnel, a culture which often stigmatizes those who admit they need help.
"Amongst military personnel, there is a stigma associated with seeking help and admitting that one can’t fix himself or herself alone," said Kimberly Kick, lecturer with Dominican University’s Graduate School of Social Work. "They have been immersed in a culture that strips them down, builds them back up, and tells them never to leave behind a fellow solder. But when they return to civilian life, many find that they indeed have been left behind."
A Military Family Life Consultant and licensed clinical social worker who has been working with military families since 2005, Kick combined forces with Lt. Col. Connie Schauer and Lt. Col. Jen Bantner to create a program that could provide social workers with the nuanced training they need to work effectively with military personnel.
"It is crucial for social workers and therapists to understand the mindset of veterans and it’s essential that they appreciate such mundane aspects of military culture as the differences between military ranks—this may seem minor to civilians but it is very important to service members. A therapist who makes mistakes with a veteran might not get another chance to help him or her."
The certificate program was launched last month with a three-day Boot Camp at Ft. McCoy in Wisconsin. During the weekend, the social workers are exposed to some of the realities of a boot camp training exercise, including push-ups, sit-ups, and wearing full battle gear. But perhaps more importantly they were introduced to a history of the modern-day military, an overview of the various military branches, codes of conduct and creeds, and a primer in military jargon.
Following the Boot Camp, the social workers are enrolled in four eight-week online courses focusing on such issues as post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol and substance abuse, traumatic brain injury, domestic violence, anger management , suicide prevention and family counseling.
The certificate program, which is specifically designed as post-graduate work, culminates with a final three-day intensive colloquium during which the social workers will be expected to apply the knowledge they have gained with real military personnel and their families, who will evaluate their ability to engage and provide effective treatment plans.
"We owe it to our veterans to help them reintegrate to civilian life," said Kick. "This program is a step in that direction."