Six Ways the Vet Center Can Help YOU!

By: Mindy Barnes

 

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is the number one employer of social workers in the United States. The VA employs over 11,000 social workers in service to the roughly 2 million veterans living in the U.S. (John Vassello, 03/08/16, Class PowerPoint). The priority of military social workers employed at Vet Centers is to assist these war zone veterans of all eras, including: World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf, and the Global War on Terrorism, among many others. If you are a veteran, here is what the Vet Center can do for you (all the information below was gathered from Connie Studgeon’s guest lecture and the materials she provided):

 

#1. PTSD

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is common among military members who have been through a traumatic event, such as combat. Some symptoms include: reliving the event through flashbacks, avoiding situations that remind you of the event, negative changes in beliefs and feelings, feeling keyed up (hyperarousal), and a long list of related complications like depression and anxiety. Spouses and children may also experience secondary PTSD. Vet Center staff help PTSD sufferers learn to cope with or lessen the effects of PTSD through utilizing the various psychotherapy techniques or through medication.

 

#2. Sexual Trauma and Harassment Counseling

The military is still largely a man’s world, sometimes making life very difficult for female military personnel. But sexual assault and harassment can happen to veterans of both sexes. Spouses of veterans can also be victims of sexual trauma and harassment. The Vet Center offers individual and group readjustment counseling, sexual trauma counseling, referral for benefits assistance, and liaison with community agencies, along with other services (discussed below) designed to help with the trauma or its side effects.

 

#3. Group and one-on-one counseling

The Vet Center also provides individual and group counseling for anger management, alcohol and/or drug problems, depression and anxiety, and social problems. Vet Center staff include wonderful social workers like Connie Studgeon, LCSW-R, from the Binghamton Vet Center who provide nonjudgmental and supportive therapy to vets in need. Sometimes just having someone who is willing to listen can make all the difference.

 

#4. Marital and family counseling

The families of military members are also affected by war. The military family member may be suffering from PTSD or sexual trauma, which can have negative effects on spouses and children. These effects may include secondary PTSD, marital troubles, or abuse. The best way to help veterans is through helping the whole family.

 

#5. Bereavement Counseling

Death is an unfortunate aspect of war. All too often veterans return home having lost many friends, while others do not return at all. Bereavement counseling is offered to military personnel, as well as to parents, siblings, spouses and children of military personnel who have died in the service to our country.

 

#6. Other programs and services

The Vet Center also offers a variety of other services such as parenting classes, benefits and job counseling, and even meditation and yoga classes. Vet Center staff are concerned with the health and well-being of the mind, body and soul of all veterans. They also respect rights to privacy, and all services are completely confidential.

 

If you are yourself a veteran, or if you are a family member of a vet, and would like to learn more about what the VA and Vet Center can do for you, you can visit www.vetcenter.va.gov for more info. If you live in Broome County, you can contact the local Binghamton Vet Center at (607) 722-2393. Remember, if you are experiencing any problems related to your combat zone experience, you are ­not crazy and you are not alone. You do not have to live at the mercy of these problems, and you have the strength and the ability to take back control over your life. The sooner you contact the Vet Center the better the outcome, but it’s never too late to seek help. Thank you all for your service.

 

Sources:

Pamphlet (Binghamton Vet Center), information sheets (War Zone Veteran Eligibility, and “What is PTSD?” found at http://www.ptsd.va.gov), and lecture provided in class by Connie Studgeon, LCSW-R, Binghamton Vet Center, 03/10/16.

Vassello, John. 03/08/16. Class PowerPoint.

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From the Outside Looking in: Life as told by War Veterans

Serving in the military during combat, is an experience that can distort ones social functioning. War veterans often face a new set of challenges after serving their time and experience trouble reintegrating back into society. These challenges may include but are not limited to, living with PTSD, sleep problems, alcohol and/or drug problems, depression, anxiety, anger problems, coping with military sexual trauma/harassment, and/or relational problems (trouble maintaining relations with intimate partners, family, & friends). War veterans are also susceptible to larger social issues such as homelessness. Enough with words, what better way to further understand the world of a veteran then to see a visual depiction of some of their daily struggles.



War Veterans are often susceptible to (PTSD) Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, which occurs after one has been through a traumatic event such as combat exposure, sexual or physical assault, terrorist attacks, and/or serious accidents. One of the symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, having bad memories or nightmares and or feeling as if you’re reliving the event (What is PTSD, pp. 2-4).



 A Veterans reality may be disrupted, such that they feel hyper-arousal, tense, and or jittery. They may always be alert and on the lookout for danger (What is PTSD p. 2). For example, Connie shared a story about one of her clients who purchased gas masks for his whole family and would avoid going out unless his whole family was with him.



 Some soldiers may avoid situations that remind them of the event. They may avoid talking about or thinking about the event, as reflected in one of the statements made by the solider in the in class video we watched, “your forced to put your feelings in a box, and never open it up again”.



Homelessness is another issue that veterans often experience. Followed by homelessness, is substance abuse, employment problems, feelings of hopelessness, shame, or despair and depression or anxiety. In Rosenberg’s role as a veterans outreach social worker, he notes the kinds of living accommodations veterans create for themselves. Veterans set up their own camping ground, consisting of those similarity situated. Many camp residents came to believe that they would be able to squat on city property indefinitely, they came to consider it their home. They had their own shacks, beds, & stoves. They have long since given up on the idea that they will ever hold regular full-time jobs or reside in apartments. As a rule they have been homeless longer than any other subgroup and have settled into the lifestyle that they believe is their lot (Grobman p. 341). 



Relationships are often difficult to maintain, as veterans may seek to over-protect their loved ones due to the fear of their lives being in danger. Fear of possible loss may prevent veterans from pursing new friendships and from engaging in social activities. 



 While war veterans may experience a wide array of challenges, they are still capable of leading successful lives as there are many ways in which military social workers provide adequate interventions and assist veterans in reintegrating back into society. Military social workers may provide veterans with direct services such as family violence/martial/couples counseling, alcohol and/or drug abuse counseling, helping them cope with depression and anxiety, stress, bereavement counseling, and military sexual trauma/harassment counseling. Social workers have also provided indirect services focusing on issues such as policy development, screening of recruits, and advocating for and developing services for military personnel and their families (Daley, p. 438). 



 References

 Daley, J. (2003). Military Social Work: A Multi-Country Comparison. International

       Social Work Int Soc Work, 46(4), 437-448. doi:10.1177/0020872803464002

Grobman, L. (2012). Days in the Lives of Social Workers (4th ed.). Harrisburg: White

       Hat Communications.

Morel, O., Mael, & Gauvin, E. (2015). Haunted. In Walking wounded: Uncut stories

        from Iraq (pp. 8-62). New York, NY: NBM Publishing.

U.S Department of Veterans Affairs (2015). What is PTSD. Retrieved from         http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/PTSD-overview/basics/what-is-ptsd.asp.

Helping the Walking Wounded- Julie S.

Military members and families face challenges that many of us can not relate to. They have dedicated service and sacrifice much of their lives to defend the principles of our country. Yet, many endure a mindset of even more extreme battle when they return home. As civilians and citizens of the United States, it is important for us to consider the needs of our service members, especially as they return and work to acclimate to the changes ahead of them. Social Workers can provide many services to help.

How do we provide services?

Ideas for intervention vary among different countries. In the United States, the Red Cross was the first example of military social work in 1918. “The first enlisted army social workers were in 1945” (Daley, 2003, p. 439). In the U.S. services include “family violence prevention and intervention services, substance abuse treatment services, mental health services, medical social work services, combat stress response teams, family support programs, individual and family wellness programs and a myriad of policy consultation positions” (Daley, 2003, p. 439). Carrie also noted that the facility in Binghamton, NY provides Bereavement Counseling, Marital Counseling, and Military Sexual Trauma/Harassment services (Carrie Studgeon).

 

What is PTSD?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur after you have been through a traumatic event. A traumatic event is something terrible and scary that you see, hear about, or that happens to you, like Combat exposure, child sexual or physical abuse, terrorist attack, sexual or physical assault, serious accidents, like a car wreck, natural disasters, like a fire, tornado, hurricane, flood, or earthquake” (VA.gov)

Symptoms of PTSD as listed on The National Center for PTSD Website:

1) Reliving the event (re-experiencing symptoms): Bad memories, nightmares, or flashbacks.

2) Avoiding situations that remind you of event: Avoiding situations that trigger memories and avoiding talking about the event.

3) Negative changes in beliefs and feelings: Fear, shame, guilt or lack of interest in former hobbies.

4) Feeling keyed up called “hyperarousal”: Jittery, always alert. Trouble concentrating or sleeping.

Who is affected?

People of all ages are can receive services from social workers. Veterans and enlisted military members (Active and Reserve) and also family members of service men and women. Families are very important people to consider for services because they help influence the feelings and decisions of their service member. Further, families endure many challenges while their service member is away and social workers can facilitate direction as to how to gain resources and comfort during deployment.

What is it like to be a VA Social Worker?

The VA has the greatest number of social workers with a total of almost 11,000 workers (Presentation 8). Some are civilians, and others are enlisted officers too. At least half of the social workers at a veterans clinic are required to have former military experience (Carrie Studgeon).

VA Social Workers provide services to veterans from many eras of war beginning with World War II through the War or Terrorism.

Carrie shared that working at the VA has been one of her most rewarding positions. Her clients are facing deep darkness from their experiences, but when she is able to see them smile the reward is unmeasurable.

Stories of the Walking Wounded

We read many stories of soldiers and their experiences told in the graphic novel Walking Wounded. This title is intriguing because it represents how on the outside someone may continue their walk appearing normal, yet they walk with memories of trauma and fear. These people walk with wounds that may not also be visible to us all, but social workers can provide support and encouragement to discover these wounds and begin to heal them. Social workers can allow veterans to understand their feelings and encourage normalcy.

Throughout the lessons of this week, I often reflected on the story of Rick Yarosh. Rick graduated from the same High School as me (Windsor, NY) and has spoken at several events about his time serving. I believe he has also visited Binghamton University a few times too. I think about the emotions and trauma that he went through and I reflect on the work that he is doing now. Currently, he travels the country speaking about his experience and giving motivation and hope to his audience members. In a way, he exemplifies characteristics of a social worker by giving strength based motivation to students and military members alike. It is amazing to see him empower others when I know he too has experienced low points in his life. In his story below, he shares about a little girl who said “hello”. He says that it was this moment that really made him feel good. This reminds me of how Connie told us that clients are looking for someone who is human on the other side, someone who can relate and have empathy. If you have not heard Rick’s story before, I am sure you have seen him in the news or online as his picture has traveled the country and now also is on display at a national museum.

“I don’t have one regret.” The story of SGT Rick Yarosh, US Army (ret) from Mike Allen on Vimeo.

Sources:

  • http://www.ptsd.va.gov/
  • Daley, James G. (2003). Military social work: A multi-country comparison. International Social Work, 46(4), 437-448.

8 Facts About Military Social Work You Need to Know Right Now-Carly Danowitz

  1. Military social workers provide many services to their clients. Some of these services focus on mental illness, wartime trauma, family violence, coping with illnesses, substance abuse, and improving their health. (Daley, 2003, p. 438)

coping

  1. Conferences for military social workers should focus on topics such as cross-national cooperation, ethical dilemmas for military social workers, policy advocacy skills, and effective strategies for working with families of deployed troops, as well as the deployed troops themselves. (Daley, 2003, p. 446)

Lieutenant General John Nicholson, Commander of Allied Land Command (LANDCOM) and General Petr Pavel, Chairman of the NATO Military Committee

  1. Social workers began providing services to the military in 1918 when the Red Cross began a demonstration project that proved to be very successful. In 1945, army social workers were first enlisted and in 1952 the first air force social worker was commissioned as an officer. (Daley, 2003, p. 439)

airforce

  1. Social workers that work within the military setting, as both civilian and military social workers, are required to have at least an MSW degree, but many also have PhD’s. (Daley, 2003, p. 440)

study

  1. Military social workers initially took the role of mental health clinicians, and have since took on many other services such as substance abuse treatment services, family support programs, family violence prevention and intervention, medical services, and stress response teams. (Daley, 2003, p. 439)

profession

6. Military social workers believe there are some common elements in which should be standards for what they do. Some of these include advocacy, client empowerment, and help with basic social services. (Daley, 2003, p. 437)

militarysocial

  1. Some of the requirements for military social work are ensuring the best quality of professionalism, implementing programs to reduce the likelihood of psychosocial problems, enhancing soldier’s ability to recover from warfare, and developing military policies, as well as procedures, that minimize psychosocial damage. (Daley, 2003, p. 438-439)

superman

  1. There are currently 600 civilian social workers, 150 army social work officers, 215 air force social work officers, and 31 navy social work officers in the United States Military. (Daley, 2003, p. 439)

soldier

 

References:

Daley, J. (2003). Military Social Work: A Multi-Country Comparison. International Social Work Int Soc Work, 46(4), 437-448. doi:10.1177/0020872803464002