USC Social Work Students and Vets Benefit From DOD Grant


The U.S. Department of Defense recently awarded the Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families (CIR) at the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work a $4.5 million grant. The sizable financial contribution will be used to improve the training of students working towards a social work degree and plans to work with our military service members.

USC has made it their mission to address the mental health of active duty service members and veterans. The university’s dedication to these brave men and women could not come at a better time as the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs reports that 10-18% of veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and/or Operation Iraqi Freedom experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to a certain extent and depression is said to present itself in 3-25% of troops.

As if those statistics aren’t staggering enough, the Department of Veterans Affairs has estimated that service members have an annual suicide rate of 29.5% per 100,000 soldier. This means that 22 of the men and women who so valiantly and selflessly fought for our country are ending their lives each day because their pleas for help are largely left ignored by society.

“CIR and DOD share the same vision that education and training can be and should be advanced, using the most innovative technologies to train clinicians anywhere, anytime to be able to meet the needs of our military and veteran communities,” said Anthony Hassan, clinical professor and director of CIR.

The university is attempting to implement new training technology in the form of 3-D avatar with corresponding mobile apps. The avatar is a 3-D representation of a soldier struggling with the experiences of combat and the difficulties of reintegrating into civilian life. Future social workers will use this technology to fine tune their counseling skills and work with other trained professionals to ensure that they will be able to provide our soldiers with the best care possible.

Dax Berg is CIR’s technology project manager spearheading the process of creating the avatar experience. He said, “There’s really no way you can do true artificial intelligence yet. The ability to have an open-ended, back-and-forth conversation is still years away. We’re trying to ‘game-ify’ it in a way where the user can get lost in the conversation. We’re trying to take something that’s never been done before, and make it possible and feel real.”

There’s no doubt students are bound experience cases that are far more intense compared to what they practiced with the avatar, but they will at very least have an idea of what skills are helpful when helping a veteran or active duty service member in a real world setting.

If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health issues after combat please reach out to the Veterans Crisis Line or call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. You’re not alone. We’ve got your 6!

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