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Congresswoman Roybal-Allard Christens New Military Social Work Program

  • Research

The USC School of Social Work and the USC Institute of Creative Technologies held a reception to celebrate the school's new military social work and veteran services program, the first of its kind at a research university, and recognize Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard for helping secure $3.2 million in federal funding for its development.

"We will have the only program, thanks to Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard's work, that connects active research both in new forms of pedagogy and exploration of treatment and intervention that serves people who are actively involved in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan," Marilyn Flynn, dean of the School of Social Work, said.

The new military social work specialization will prepare social workers and other trained mental health professionals to help the nation's armed forces personnel, military veterans and their families manage the pressures of military life and post-war adjustments. The program will be housed in the new USC San Diego Academic Center in Rancho Bernardo and hold its first classes in the fall.

The reception, held April 15 at the Hamovitch Center for Science in the Human Services in downtown Los Angeles, was attended by about 60 people including university faculty and staff, community members and representatives from veteran organizations.

Flynn and Randall Hill, Jr., executive director of ICT, publicly thanked Roybal-Allard for her efforts and continued commitment to help make the military program a success. In turn, Congresswoman Roybal-Allard commended the Department of Defense for embracing the project.

"My success in this request was a critical acknowledgment by the Department of Defense for the immediate need for trained mental health professionals who understand the culture of the military, who are trained to address the trauma and stress associated with military service and who appreciate the complexities of life facing military families," Congresswoman Roybal-Allard said.

Roybal-Allard said when Flynn and her staff visited her in Washington, D.C. over a year ago she was immediately moved and impressed by their enthusiasm, passion and desire to "merge technology and social work in creative ways which offer tremendous potential for treatment and training." And after learning more about the program, it became her passion as well.

The School of Social Work is collaborating with ICT to use some of its immersive technologies to train social workers and treat patients. ICT is working with the U.S. Army and has developed a virtual reality exposure therapy to treat soldiers and veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Research scientist Albert 'Skip' Rizzo was on hand to demonstrate the immersive virtual environment application, which helps a veteran with PTSD experience a combat-relevant scenario in a low-threat context to therapeutically process emotions and de-condition the effects of the disorder.

"We are very grateful for the opportunity to participate in this one-of-a-kind program. It's going to be filling a void," Hill said. "By securing this funding, you are not only bringing attention to the issues that are facing our service members, but you are also helping to train a generation of social workers and specialists who are going to be able to treat them as they return."

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