College offers first postgraduate program for military and veterans counseling in Virginia

0
527
Graduates of the new program will be trained to address the specific challenges that active-duty military, veterans and their family members face. COURTESY PHOTO / WM.EDU

Starting this fall, the College of William and Mary’s School of Education will be the first postgraduate program in the state of Virginia to offer a specialization in military and veterans counseling. Graduates of the program will be trained to address the specific challenges that active-duty military, veterans and their family members face, including trauma-related disorders and the military-to-veteran transition. 

According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Virginia has one of the highest veteran and active-duty military populations in the country. Since 2016, Virginia has remained in the top 10 for veteran populations and is among the top five states for active-duty military populations. 

Carrie Ann Alford, the director of policy and planning at the Virginia Department of Veterans Services, was influenced by the amount of veterans in the state, and she decided to contact several universities in Virginia to see if they could implement a program that could train future counselors to work with veteran populations. Alford reached out to the College in 2017 upon learning that the Counseling Department has a “gold standard” for both classroom and clinical instruction and that the College has a history of being “pro-veteran”.  

According to Dr. Charles McAdams, professor and Chair of the School of Psychology and Counselor Education Department, multiple factors contributed to the development of the new specialized program. 

“Given, after so many years of armed conflict, the growing population of active duty and military personnel, and the numerous military installations in our geographical area, the Counseling faculty felt compelled to respond to this request for assistance by the state in assuring that adequate counselors are available who understand the demands of military service and effectively can address the behavioral health needs of service members and veterans,” McAdams said.   

To develop the new Master of Education concentration, the counseling department consulted with the DVS to draft specific plans for the program’s curriculum and functional operation. McAdams and others attended the State of the American Veteran’s Conference in September of 2017, where they consulted with representatives from the USC’s Military Social Work program. McAdams and Dr. Leslie Grant of the School of Education authored the proposal for the new program, and the proposal was subsequently reviewed and approved by the School of Education’s counseling faculty. 

McAdams designed the program to include three new courses related specifically to military members and veterans. Existing courses at the School of Education were also tailored to incorporate new sections related to military and veterans issues. 

“[Graduates] will leave the program with a unique understanding of military life and culture, the impact and treatment of trauma-related disorders, and an array of resources that can assist military members and their families with the transition from military to civilian life,” McAdams said.  

“[Graduates] will leave the program with a unique understanding of military life and culture, the impact and treatment of trauma-related disorders, and an array of resources that can assist military members and their families with the transition from military to civilian life,” McAdams said.  

The next step in implementing the program necessitated securing funding from Virginia’s General Assembly. Alford worked with the College’s Vice President of Government Relations at the time to ensure that rectors included a funding request for the new concentration in their annual funding request to the Governor and the General Assembly. Former Governor Terry McAuliffe included the funding in his outgoing 2017 budget.  

In 2018, the General Assembly included the funding in their final budget, and awarded the College $287,000 for the start-up of the new program in 2019. George Mason University and Virginia State University are currently in the process of obtaining funding from the General Assembly for similar programs.  

Student veterans from the Student Veterans of William and Mary commented on the possible future impact of the program, including on student veterans. 

“Even though I had an awesome mentor at the School of Education who was instrumental in helping me navigate my program, I did not feel she was able to relate to some of the things I was dealing with in the same way other student veterans on campus could relate,” Toni Gay ’20 said, who is a doctoral student at the School of Education. “The same kind of thing would apply to a counselor who could ‘speak military’ or ‘veteran.’  They would, I think, be able to give you a sense that they really understood where you’re coming from.”  

Other student veterans commented on the role of the new program at the College. Phillip Sheldon, ’20 felt that Williamsburg offers a uniquely beneficial location for hosting the program. 

“William and Mary is situated nearby the largest naval base in the world and this new military counseling program would allow us to better serve the needs of the surrounding community,” Sheldon said.  

“William and Mary is situated nearby the largest naval base in the world and this new military counseling program would allow us to better serve the needs of the surrounding community,” Sheldon said.  

Charlie Foster, Troops to Teachers Liaison and veteran at the College, views the new program as an extension of the College’s history. 

“It is rewarding to serve those who have served our nation, so anyone interested in counseling may find working with this population similarly rewarding,” Foster said. “W&M has an outstanding tradition of service — from its founding to improve education in the colonies to President Rowe’s emphasis on learning, work, and service in 2019 and beyond.  The new counseling program is a great addition to this tradition.” 

The program will be offered online this year, and the counseling department plans on offering it on campus next year. With three students already enrolled after the announcement of the program in mid-May, McAdams is confident that the program will become as popular as the College’s other counseling programs.