2010-08-12 / Front Page

Practitioners trained in needs of returning N.J. veterans

BY ANDREW DAVISON
Staff Writer

WEST LONG BRANCH — The School of Social Work at Monmouth University is expanding efforts to improve the mental health treatment of New Jersey’s returning veterans through its Coming Home Project.

“How can we prepare social workers to meet the unique needs of returning war veterans and their families?” was the question Dr. Carolyn Bradley, a founding member of the Coming Home Project, said started the project.

“Their life experience would make them unique from some of the people we more commonly see in a clinical setting,” Bradley said, explaining that the veterans as well as their comrades have been placed in situations where their lives were at risk. “Our idea was to train community providers so they would be better equipped to understand this.”

Bradley said that she and her colleagues noticed a disparity in the availability of care for career military personnel and the care available for reservists and National Guard members.

“Your traditional professional military does a magnificent job of taking care of returning combat veterans,” Bradley said. “If you are full-time military, you return to a base where people understand what you have been through, and there are resources readily available for you.

“Our concern … was what happens to National Guard and reservists who return to a community that doesn’t understand what they’ve been through? How prepared are social workers, who might see these returning combat veterans in community-practice situations, to really deal with their needs?”

While the Department of Veterans Affairs provides services and there is a mandatory screening program at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Bradley said returning veterans are often reluctant to access those services.

“Family members were left not really understanding what was going on with this person,” Bradley said. “While there are services for the veterans, there is still a need to train clinical providers to recognize what they are seeing and to develop an appropriate treatment plan.”

In an effort to provide this, Bradley, along with colleagues at the School of SocialWork, looked at the resources available in the area for social workers and social work students.

“It was from that brainstorming session that the Coming Home Project came about,” she said.

Bradley said the School of Social Work now offers courses specifically on veterans’ issues to practicing social workers and master’s degree students.

“Through our professional education program we are offering continuing education workshops for social workers who are already licensed and are looking to develop skills that would help them work with this population.

“We are developing curricula and field placements for our students so they have the opportunity to develop the knowledge from the coursework and skills from the fieldwork to work with returning combat veterans and their families.”

According to Bradley, the Coming Home Project’s first master’s level class, “Social Work With Military Families,” ran this spring and was filled to capacity.

“I am very happy that students are interested in pursuing this type of training because it is an area that, unfortunately, there will be a need for services, because both the civilian population and military recognize the impact of combat,” she said. “I think we are much more aware of how to respond to those needs and recognize those needs than we were, certainly after Vietnam.”

Bradley said faculty members are developing a second course focused on trauma. This course will study post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI) and other forms of emotional trauma. This course will also take a special look at women combat veterans and how their experience often differs from that of men’s, Bradley said.

Bradley said a third course is also in the works.

“We hope to develop, with the School of Nursing, a course on physical injuries resulting from the war and how that changes the survivor and the family.”

This course, she said, would look at the effects of amputations that are often caused by improvised explosive devices, among other injuries.

The New Jersey Governor’s Council recognized the School of Social Work’s efforts by awarding the Coming Home Project its Ambassador Award in the category of Military and Veterans Affairs on May 18.

“The council is proud to recognize the importance of the Monmouth University Coming Home Project. We applaud this endeavor and see it as invaluable as we strive to support the mental health needs of veterans and their families,” said Celina Gray, executive director of the Governor’s Council on Mental Health Stigma, in a press release.

Bradley appreciated the commendation.

“We were very grateful that our efforts in the area of combating mental health stigma by creating awareness through education were recognized. We were very honored,” she said.

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