Serving Veterans and Unemployed Persons in Underserved Communities

As part of the 2010 Education Leadership Conference (ELC) program, ELC attendees participated in a plenary session entitled, Graduate Psychology Education: Serving Veterans and Unemployed Persons in Underserved Communities. This special panel presentation spotlighted the role of the Graduate Psychology Education (GPE) program in addressing trauma related to unemployment, as well as post-deployment military personnel living in underserved communities. 

The first speaker, David Riggs, PhD, Director of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Center for Deployment Psychology and part of the Uniformed Services University Health Sciences, spoke about the magnitude and the impact that deployed and returning Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) veterans are having in so many communities today.  Riggs noted that, to date, there have been approximately 2 million service members deployed, 4 million parents with children deployed, 1 million spouses coping with deployment and 2 million children with a parent deployed. Many of these deployed individuals suffer from serious emotional distress. Moreover, upon their return, Dr. Riggs pointed out that these veterans often live in rural or other underserved communities where there is little to no mental or behavioral health services readily available to them. Dr. Riggs explained that the Center for Deployment Psychology is working hard to address this problem, but also emphasized the need for the psychologists in the community to also help address the critical needs of military personnel and their families  – needs which are often unmet because of location, stigma and lack of providers. 

The next presenter, David Rudd, PhD, Dean of the College of Social and Behavioral at the University of Utah, spoke extensively about why soldiers are increasingly more vulnerable to mental health problems. Rudd cited several things, including: repeated deployments and combat exposure, which often leads to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety;  increased high risk behaviors (e.g., substance abuse); issues of acquired capability (i.e., habituation to risk and violence); and the impact of the warrior identity (i.e., associated stigma  related to seeking mental health services). Dr. Rudd also emphasized the mental and behavioral health components of the signature physical injuries from OIF/OEF deployments (i.e., traumatic brain injuries, amputations and burns). In addition, Rudd presented data showing that combat injuries are less lethal under OIF and OEF, leaving soldiers alive but returning home with very serious injuries they may have killed them in previous wars. He also provided a thorough overview of the costs associated with mental and behavioral illness as it relates to veterans. Dr. Rudd agreed there is a critical need to provide mental and behavioral health services to veterans in the communities where they reside through such programs as GPE.  

The last panelist to speak at this plenary session was Nadya Fouad, PhD,ABPP professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. Dr. Fouad provided a detailed examination of the role that work plays in modern life; the links between unemployment, underemployment and mental health; a snapshot of unemployment in the 1930’s as compared to 2010; and the need for help with involuntary transitions. She also shared research about how job satisfaction is linked to various health outcomes, including length of life, psychological health and psychical health. Being employed, she noted, is related to positive indicators of mental health and well-being. On the other hand, unemployment is related to problems with both mental and physical health, including depression, anxiety and hopelessness. Dr. Fouad concluded her presentation regarding the pressing mental and behavioral health needs associated with unemployment and underemployment by noting the positive difference that doctoral level psychologist trainees participating in a GPE program can make in meeting the needs of the growing number of unemployed persons.