Alumni Discuss Their Social Work Practice With Veterans

The NYU Silver School of Social Work hosted the NYU Silver Alumni Panel Series: Social Work Practice with Veterans on Wednesday, December 5. The panel was moderated by Judith Rosen, MSW '13, and the following alumni presented:

- Elizabeth Grillo Gargano, MSW '08, clinical geriatric social worker at the US Department of Veterans Affairs;

- Shaun B. Henry, MSW '06, social worker at the US Department of Veterans Affairs; and 

- Heidi Peck, MSW '05, social worker at the US Department of Veterans Affairs. 

The conversation opened with alumni discussing their current positions. Gargango works in a US Department of Veterans Affairs(VA)-contract community living center in Baltimore, Maryland, specializing in palliative or end-of-life care. She assists clients and their families in burial planning and bereavement work. Henry serves as a Licensed Social Worker for the VA and utilizes his previous experience at the NYC Administration for Children's Services to help veterans navigate the bureaucracy of large agencies. Peck is currently employed in an outpatient clinic and helps clients dealing with substance abuse and behavioral health issues. In addition to this, she works with nonprofit agencies that serve veterans, aiding them in issues such as homelessness and providing individual counseling for veterans. 

"I knew what I wanted to do since high school," Gargango declared enthusiastically. Her uncle is a veteran, and her husband is in active duty. "I have an inside scoop," she said. "I understand as a family member and wife." She uses this experience to help families in the unit with sick or dying relatives. She finds her job very rewarding and described her colleagues as family. She stated that the VA is the largest employer of social workers nationwide. 

Peck related to Gargango in that two of her grandfathers were veterans. "It was a huge part of my early childhood," she said, but they rarely spoke about their military experience. In describing veterans' culture, Peck said, "Peer support is instrumental in getting well." Veterans have a special sense of camaraderie because they understand what it means to have been deployed or be part of a unit. Peck also talked about PTSD, and how important it is to understand the history of PTSD treatment to better serve clients, given that a great percentage of veterans suffer from it. 

Henry described what veterans deal with, empathetically noting, "People we see have a lot that they come to us with." This includes veterans who have had multiple tours of duty and who are living with serious injuries that will affect their quality of life -- injuries they would have died from years before. Society now has to find ways to help these veterans reintegrate successfully into the community. He stated that veterans "want to be heard."

Gargano encourages students interested in learning more about PTSD to look into the Defense Centers for Excellence and the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center. Henry noted that the VA is doing research on Prolonged Exposure Therapy and Traumatic Brain Injury. Peck said, "We can teach veterans to re-experience [trauma] to self-soothe." Students interested in working with veterans can search on for social work positions. On the education at the Silver School, Peck reassured student that "Your education will be enough!"