Veteran’s Day Spotlight: Mohamed Hassan, MSW ’22

Mohamed Hassan headshot“I don’t want to say I take my work more seriously than the VA social workers who are civilians, but I take it more personally,” said U.S. Marine Corps veteran Mohamed Hassan, MSW ’22, who helps homeless and housing insecure veterans find and keep permanent housing as a social worker at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston, TX. It was his own disappointing experience with a civilian VA social worker that inspired him to pursue his MSW and serve fellow veterans himself.

When he was just out of the Marine Corps, having done two deployments in Afghanistan during his four years in the service, Mohamed began using his VA education benefits towards his bachelor’s degree. “Once you use your benefits, you get assigned a social worker,” he explained. “I remember thinking ‘I could do better than this.’ It’s not that the person disrespected me, per se, but instead of making me feel like I was heard and my needs were going to be met, I felt like I was just another case number.”

As a HUD-VASH (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing) Case Manager, Mohamed’s focus is getting homeless veterans housed and referring those with substance use disorders or mental health challenges to specialists or outside providers. While he doesn’t provide counseling or clinical interventions, he draws on his clinical skills, like active listening and motivational interviewing, to connect with the veterans he serves and ensure they feel supported. “I remind my colleagues, even as case managers we’re still social workers; we have to meet the veterans where they’re at and attend to their needs.”

Connecting Veteran-to-Veteran

The first thing Mohamed does with new veterans on his caseload is an intake, but for him it’s not just about filling out paperwork and forms. “I disclose to them that I’m a veteran too, and right there, that’s when it comes together. They start talking to me about how they got there, and things of that nature, and then they start talking about their mental health or substance use.”

Veterans often tell him things they haven’t shared with their clinicians, which enables him to connect them to supports they need beyond just housing. “Honestly the best part of it,” he said, “is being able to be there for my veterans the same way I wanted someone to be there for me.”

Mohamed also finds great satisfaction in getting fellow veterans safely housed. He recalled working his first crisis situation in his current position with a veteran who was a domestic violence survivor at risk of further violence. “Right after I got the email about her case, I called her and the first thing she said was ‘I need help getting out of here and I can’t wait. I really need to get away from this person.’ I had to figure out how to get her temporary housing ASAP. Luckily I found a program that gives hotel vouchers. My team leader and I picked her up from where she was, took her down to the program center and did all her paperwork there. She had a 60-day hotel voucher literally within 48 hours. I was like, ‘Oh, man!’ I was part of the reason she got out of that situation. It felt great.”

Urging More Veterans to Pursue Social Work

Mohamed recognizes that civilian social workers have a role to play in meeting the many clinical and case management needs of the nation’s veterans. He urges civilian MSW students considering military social work to learn as much about the veteran population as they can. “Try to do your internship at the VA so you can see what kind of mental health issues veterans deal with and you’re aware of the intensity of the work you’re going to do,” he advised.

That said, he strongly encourages veterans to consider becoming social workers themselves. “We need more veteran social workers in the VA. We’re able to provide a service from a different place than our civilian counterparts. We’re able to give the veterans that extra understanding that they generally don’t get from a non-veteran social worker.”

Mohamed urged all social workers to “Remember our veterans sacrificed and fought on our behalf across the world. It’s time for us as providers to form a therapeutic alliance with our veterans, their families, and their communities to help them fight the battles against mental health, substance abuse, and homelessness which drive our veterans into isolation. Social workers are the guardian angels of the unheard, unseen and the wounded.”