BOSTON - In 2011, The Massachusetts State Legislature and Governor's Administration authorized into law a "Train Vets to Treat Vets" program for William James College--in conjunction with the Massachusetts Department of Veterans Services--to establish a behavioral health career development program for returning veterans.
The grant of $125,000 is an annual appropriation for the program which includes:
- Educating William James College student veterans to become experts in providing mental health care for military veterans and their families.
- Reaching out to returning military veterans to identify and support their interests in a career in behavioral health through a mentorship and educational program utilizing William James College student veterans and faculty
The "Train Vets to Treat Vets" program addresses the needs indentified in a January 5, 2009 report by a "Special Commission to Study and Investigate the Hidden Wounds of War in Massachusetts Service Members". Needs identified:
- A newly returning veteran, who suffers from suicidal ideation related to deployment, will find the availability of appropriate evidence-based care is haphazard and spotty.
- Competently trained mental health professionals are in short supply
- Veterans experience significant barriers in accessing mental health care
"Our partnership with the Department of Veterans Services will not only help provide much needed culturally sensitive services to veterans traumatized by their combat experience, but will also offer veterans who are dedicated to helping fellow service men and women, the skills and credentials necessary to make it a viable career and life's work," said Dr. Nicholas Covino, president of William James College.
William James College is the largest educator of mental health professionals in the State. In 2009, William James College applied for and was approved as an Institution of Higher Learning under the Yellow Ribbon Program of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Through this program, William James College has begun to attract former service personnel and reservists interested in careers in mental health care. Currently, William James College is training nine students in their military community. Two of the student veterans have been re-commissioned into the military and will become military psychologists: Army reservist, Norman (Trey) Tippens is preparing a return to the Army as a military psychologist and former Marine Corps Sergeant, Greg Matos, is now a Navy Ensign and will treat Marines and sailors in and out of combat situations.
"The sense of service is monumental in the lives of veterans," stated Matos in a recent testimony before legislators at the Massachusetts State House, "in the 'Train Vets to Treat Vets' program you will be supporting the veteran-therapist in meeting the mental health needs of returning veterans. In the Marine Corps we learned that emotional expression, vulnerability and closeness in a relationship were weaknesses and unacceptable. Yet, these are the foundations of the therapeutic treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and any mental health problems veterans might need to work through. Most important, the treatment occurs in relation to a well-trained veteran-therapist."
Efforts are underway to advance action on the "Train Vets to Treat Vets" program. A team of five William James College student veterans, with one mental health professional faculty member, have begun outreach efforts through meetings at colleges and universities with undergraduate veterans and other military-experienced people to offer information about a career as a military psychologist, as well as other psychology tracks in mental health....vets talking with vets. While carrying out campus visits, William James College veterans will also explore what mental health treatments are helpful to veterans and define the training needs necessary to treat veterans, as well as train other trainers.
Campus visits were held recently at Northeastern University, Boston, and at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth campus, under the guidance of William James College student veteran, Janice Furtado.
A veteran of nine years in active duty and reserve in the United States Air Force, Janice is currently involved in her William James College clinical site work training at UMA/Dartmouth and also working part-time at the VA Boston Health Care System with combat veterans and their families. "The most satisfying moments for me are when veterans, with great concern and reluctance, first come to me for counseling....and they return a second time," she said.
Through the "Train Vets to Treat Vets" program, other clinical sites targeted for mental health services and training include The Veterans Northeast Outreach Center in Haverhill, MA., and the New England Center for Homeless Veterans in Boston.