LOS ANGELES -- The University of Southern California School of Social Work launched today a new scholarship effort for veterans pursuing careers that will help other returning veterans. The program, Salute4Vets, will serve as both an online fund-raising initiative for the scholarships as well as a showcase of the school's and community's overwhelming support for returning veterans.
Many veterans are returning home with a range of challenges in their transition to civilian life. While some veterans must cope with combat-related stress disorders (e.g., post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury), the vast majority are navigating through daily life challenges—employment, housing, health care, education and relationships. Increasingly, social workers are the ones who diagnose and treat them, yet many do not have specialized training to understand the transition of civilian vs. military life.
"The nation faces a critical shortage of social workers qualified to care for veterans and their families," said Kimberly Finney, clinical associate professor who chairs the school's military social work program. A retired U.S. Air Force officer and clinical psychologist, Finney knows the value of having culturally sensitive professionals. "Veterans have unique backgrounds and skillsets that can be leveraged in this field to facilitate interactions with other veterans and, ultimately, improve their lives."
The Salute4Vets program aims to help veterans pursue a Master of Social Work degree and then a career that will enable them to provide the psychological and social support their fellow veterans need. Donations of any amount to support this effort can be made at www.Salute4Vets.org. The community is also invited to post selfies of salutes on social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) with the #Salute4Vets hashtag. Participants do not have to donate to post a selfie. Salute photos posted with #Salute4Vets hashtag will be featured on the website.
Through the School of Social Work, USC offers the largest national military social work program by a private research university. The Master of Social Work curriculum offers a specialization in military social work with advanced study in military culture and how it impacts service members, veterans and their families, with specific insight into their experiences, life stressors and values. The program is noted for its focus on evidence-based clinical practices, virtual reality technology and promising research-based mental health interventions. The school's online MSW@USC program has become a great option for veterans across the country who may not be able to relocate to Southern California for their graduate studies. More than 65 percent of its enrollment comes from out of state.
Currently, the school has 1,176 military social work graduates who have gone on to help approximately 235,000 veterans and are serving 100,000 veterans annually. However, more than 10,000 trained social workers are needed to assist the estimated 2.6 million service members who have deployed since 9/11. In order to award 120 Salute4Vets Scholarships, providing a no-cost education for veterans enrolled in the MSW program with the military option, the USC School of Social Work must raise $2.6 million this year.
The program helped Navy veteran Gena Truitt MSW '12 find a way to impact veterans on multiple levels.
Truitt never realized how difficult and challenging it would be to transition from military to civilian life until it was her turn to experience it. "We were so unprepared and had no idea what to expect having no concept of any of the resources available or how to navigate the system. It was frightening to find yourself fresh out of the military and not able to find a place to live, to be on the verge of being homeless on the streets with a family," said Truitt, who now works at the VA Loma Linda Healthcare System in San Bernardino County where she interacts directly with veterans as a homeless outreach social worker. "Now, when I get these transitioning veterans in my office who are homeless or on the verge of being homeless, it brings it all back how lost and scared we were. Except now I am in a position where I can help these transitioning veterans navigate the system and the resources. I want to help them more than anything because I don't want them to go through what I went through. I want it to be better for them than it was for my family."
While at USC, Truitt also studied macro-level social work, which allows her reach to extend beyond the individual veterans who come into her office. Having been appointed by California Gov. Jerry Brown, Truitt sits on the state veteran's board.
The program helped U.S. Army National Guard Nathan Graeser, MDIV, MSW'13 find a way to impact veterans in Los Angeles.
"After serving in the military for 15 years and the last four as Chaplain with the U.S. Army National Guard, I wanted to do something to help my fellow veterans that came home wounded and lost. The MSW program at USC showed me see how I could use my military background and theological training to effect a more positive change and bridge the gap between military and civilian culture. The positive effect we have on veterans in a very pragmatic and real-world way is enormous. I lost a lot of friends in the war; I don't want to lose the ones that do come home, and USC's program has given me the tools to really help. Our trained veterans have a unique ability to help other veterans."
The Salute4Vets campaign welcomes participants from all age groups, all walks of life, as well as celebrities and political officials.
For more information, go to www.Salute4Vets.org. Hear first-hand from current students and alumni about their experiences and challenges.