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Nov. 11, 2010 Volume 32, No. 12

Certificate program targets needs of veterans and military families


Combat, long deployments can lead to serious problems

In June, researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research reported that about one in 10 veterans of the Iraq war develop serious mental health problems, including violent behavior and alcohol abuse, that worsen once they return home. 

Other research suggests that one third of returning soldiers from Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan are diagnosed with mental health issues, most commonly post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, and that diagnoses have doubled since the start of the Iraqi invasion in 2003.

The unique needs of returning military personnel have been a growing concern among social workers, who offer a variety of services to veterans and their families. Now, the University of Missouri School of Social Work has created a graduate certificate in military social work to equip social workers to help the nation’s armed forces personnel, veterans and their families deal with the pressures of military service and the sometimes difficult adjustment to life after active duty.

“I felt it was important that the School of Social Work step up and train our students to be better prepared to meet the needs of not only our veterans but their families who also have to cope with the stresses of military life,” said Marjorie Sable, the school’s director.

The idea for the new specialization stemmed from daily news reports about the problems veterans experience, stress associated with multiple deployments in combat zones, extended separations and blast-related traumatic brain injuries. Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety can lead to substance abuse, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect and suicide.  

MU is one of about 25 schools of social work nationwide responding to the increased demand for trained social workers to work with the physical and behavioral health needs of returning veterans, Sable said. MU worked closely with social workers at the US Army Post in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and at Truman Veterans Hospital in Columbia to develop the certificate program.

The 12-credit hour graduate-level program is restricted to professional social workers who want additional training in the area of military social work and to current clinical master of social work students with interest in this area.  The first courses will be offered in fall 2011. Students will be expected to complete the certificate requirements in two years. 

Beyond the course requirements, students will take a series of classes on military culture and practicing social work in military settings. They will also learn about trauma practice and crisis intervention, addiction prevention and treatment, disabilities, family caregiving and domestic violence.

Graduates with military social work training will be able to better counsel deploying and returning soldiers, help individuals cope with various mental and physical disabilities and boost life skills related to parenting, stress management and suicide prevention.

To further its commitment to meeting the needs of military personnel, veterans and their families, the school will host a summit, “Meeting the Needs of Veterans & Military Families: A Summit for Health & Human Services Professionals.” The event is at 8 a.m. Nov. 12 in the Hilton Garden Inn at 3300 Vandiver Drive. Attendees will hear from national and statewide speakers as well as participate in two panels on various topics. 

“We hope this will become an annual event,” Sable says.

With questions about the graduate certificate in military social work program or the summit, call Sable at 882-0914 or e-mail