Michigan State University is the first university in the country to launch a Combat Veterans Certificate Program to help battle the suicide epidemic among veterans.
The program focuses on the intense and emotional journey from boot camp to war and transitioning back to civilian life.
“I’m not the same person I was when I started this program,” said Joel Evers, who will graduate May 3 with his master’s in social work and certification to work with veterans. “This program has given me the awareness, tools and skills necessary to work with veterans in the future.”
Seven veterans serve as the instructors to provide the social work graduate students insight into a combat veteran’s mindset.
Brian Hanna, a former Army captain, is one of the veteran instructors in the class. While in Afghanistan, he experienced combat immediately knowing he may never meet his unborn child.
“On a daily basis, I think about my combat experience,” he said. “The shame, the guilt, the wishing I can change things. And I remind myself that I did the best I could, and then try to move on. But it’s like having a tape on loop.”
One day, when civilian life became more difficult than combat life, Hanna realized he needed help.
But it wasn’t easy to find, and no one seemed to truly understand the horrors of battle and the struggle to acclimate to civilian life.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to talk about certain things, and when I see the facial reactions of people, I just stop,” Hanna said. “I learned really quickly not to talk about it.”
“We have deliberately chosen to make our focus on those veterans who have experienced combat because that is something few people understand, and it brings with it unique challenges,” said Glenn Stutzky, senior clinical instructor in the School of Social Work.
More than 2.7 million troops have been deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq since September 11, 2001 to fight in our nation’s longest wars. As many as 20% of these veterans meet criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and an average of 21,000 Traumatic Brain Injuries have been diagnosed each year since 2000. Suicide now takes more lives than war itself, with at least 20 service members and veterans committing suicide every day. In Michigan alone, 500,000 veterans have served during wartime.