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By Kristen Cole   Date: 11/8/12 Bookmark and Share

Helping Others Who Have Served

School for Social Work Veterans Focus on Needs of Military Personnel

SSW doctoral student John Bucholtz and his wife, Laura Owen, both military veterans.

On Monday, November 12—Veteran's Day—Smith student John Bucholtz will march with his family in San Diego’s Veteran’s Day parade. Meanwhile that day, his classmate Jennifer Mahn plans to call and text her friends in the military.

Bucholtz and Mahn are among a half-dozen student veterans currently enrolled in the School for Social Work, a graduate program that was founded nearly 100 years ago to prepare and train social workers to provide mental health services to traumatized soldiers from World War I.

The school now offers an annual scholarship for a military member or veteran who is making a commitment to working on mental health issues specific to military personnel, and a curriculum to support that pursuit.

“There are not a lot of schools that specifically address veterans’ needs,” said Bucholtz, a former member of the U.S. Air Force. “Smith is one of only a few programs in the country that offers curriculum around military social work.”

Last summer, Bucholtz completed the first of three 10-week summer academic sessions toward his doctorate in social work. Next year, his wife, Laura Owen, and their two children will temporarily relocate to Smith from San Diego with him for the summer, while he takes classes.

School for Social Work student Jennifer Mahn, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran, collects oil samples on the Gulf of Mexico.

Working with veterans is a family affair. Bucholtz and Owen both served in the Air Force as counselors. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the couple was assigned to serve members of the military in Afghanistan—Laura in the conflict zone and John in the United States.

When the Iraq War stretched on, the physical and mental injuries among veterans became increasingly worse and more frequent, said Bucholtz, prompting both he and Owen to pursue advanced academic work. While Bucholtz enrolled at Smith, Owen began a dissertation that posits when large groups of individuals are traumatized, it is a public health crisis.

For School for Social Work student Mahn, the military experience exposed her to the idea of social work. Originally, she enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard to gain law enforcement experience that she could parlay into a career as a police officer. But she changed course after volunteering for a youth program while working on the BP Oil spill cleanup effort in 2010.

“When I volunteered with kids on a softball team, I really got interested in counseling,” said Mahn, who is from Portland, Ore. “The Coast Guard is all about helping others, and to me that is a personal core value.”

Until the start of the next summer session, Mahn is now doing her placement with a mobile crisis team in Northampton, while Bucholtz’ is at the Veteran’s Village of San Diego.

“Case by case, we can make a huge difference,” said Bucholtz.

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