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  • Lisa Jevens

Military social work program puts student boots on the ground

An innovative Dominican University program sends graduate and post-graduate students in social work to boot camp — literally.

Students in the Military Certificate Program troop head to Fort McCoy in Wisconsin for a two-and-a-half-day "mental boot camp" where they learn the basics of military life and culture, and the problems many veterans face after leaving the military. The students return to Fort McCoy at the end of the eight-week program for "intensives," applying what they have learned via interviews of mock patients for whom they create treatment plans.

Program creator Kimberly Kick, a lecture in the School of Social Work, says specific training for serving veterans is critical but rare in social work degree programs and she isn't aware of another in Illinois. "People think if you learn counseling, you can counsel everyone, but not really," Kick says. "Veterans know right away if practitioners don't get what they're going through, or are unfamiliar with the military, and they shut down.

"With the shocking rates of veteran homelessness, joblessness, suicide, sexual assault, PTSD, and more in the news every day, there are a lot of challenges to helping veterans, Kick says.

"Amongst military personnel, there is a stigma associated with seeking help and admitting that you can't fix yourself alone," she explains. "They have been immersed in a culture that strips them down, builds them back up, and tells them never to leave behind a fellow soldier. But when they return to civilian life, many find that they indeed have been left behind.

"The program can be used as both a certificate program for those who already have their Masters in Social Work (MSW), and a concentration that Dominican students in the Graduate School of Social Work can select.

Kick became interested in helping military families years ago in her private practice, located near Great Lakes Naval Base.

She says the program, now in its second year, has attracted one former military spouse, one retired Navy veteran, and one active duty Army MSW student, along with others who share Kick's passion for helping veterans.

Originally published in the Chicago Tribune Advanced Education section on October 15, 2013.

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