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A Nation of Professionals: Responding on the Home Front

By Emily W. Bleyl, executive director of the National Association of Social Workers, Utah Chapter, and Heide McVeigh, Professional and Community Education intern, University of Utah College of Social Work

This week, the University of Utah campus will host presenters from Washington D.C., Wyoming, California, New York, and elsewhere, demonstrating the far-reaching importance of one particular topic: the impact of military engagement on families and communities. Responding on the Home Front – a national conference sponsored by the University of Utah College of Social Work and the Utah Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers – will not only explore familiar veteran’s issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse, but also frequently neglected issues, such as the impact deployment and return (often multiple deployments and homecomings) have on service men and women’s children and their relationships with significant others.

Many health professionals, and even mental health clinicians, believe it is sufficient for veterans to receive services and treatment through the VA system, but fail to consider other impacted populations. The impact of deployment and reintegration are far reaching. Spouses, children, and parents – even neighbors and family friends – may be affected by the military service of one individual. These family members and friends are far more likely to seek help from private therapists, family physicians, school counselors, or even teachers. Although qualified in their respective fields, these professionals may not be sufficiently prepared to effectively address the challenges specific to these populations.

There are a number of unique dynamics associated with Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom that necessitate specialized treatment. This decade-long war has resulted in multiple deployments, in some cases the simultaneous deployment of both parents in a single family, and utilization of large numbers of reservists. These exceptional demands have a far-reaching impact on the psychological, physical, and social health of the families and community systems surrounding each soldier.

Increasing numbers of professionals across a variety of disciplines are recognizing the need for specialized training in this area. Unfortunately, Responding on the Home Front is only the second conference of its kind in the country. As a community of scholars and professionals, it is important that we recognize that the violence and trauma experienced by our troops overseas is increasingly manifesting on the home front in the form of suicide, homicide, spousal abuse, military sexual trauma, psychological trauma, physical disability, and disrupted family relationships. Sadly, the need for services has outpaced resources. We hope that this conference will honor the men and women of our engaged military and help to fill an important void in services to them and their families.

For more information about Responding on the Home Front, please visit the conference website at www.socwk.utah.edu/homefront.