The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 became law on June 30, 2008. The act included a section that expanded the educational benefits for veterans who have served since September 11, 2001. It is typically referred to as the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The primary components of the bill include funding 100% of a veteran’s education, although there are limits to what and how much it will fund.
The expansion of the Post-9/11 GI Bill has made it possible for tens of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to enter the classroom and build new careers. To meet this ever growing need, universities, colleges and technical schools are creating new educational opportunities specially geared toward veterans in the fields of science, technology, education and business. The same is true for psychology. Although psychology has always been a career option for veterans, universities now recognize the importance of offering specialties in military or veteran psychology as part of master’s and doctoral programs. It is assumed, and rightly so, that veterans are in a good position to become effective and compassionate helping professionals. The most recent venture into this arena is at the University of Denver. Psychologist and Iraq veteran Dr. Jacob Hyde oversees the Sturm Specialty in Military Psychology along with clinical psychologist Dr. Katy Barrs.
The Sturm Specialty
The Sturm program combines military- and veteran-focused clinical and classroom training for graduate students in psychology. In addition to training future psychologists in military culture, evidence-based treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder and the impact of operational environments on psychological functioning, an off-campus clinic provides trainees the opportunity to gain real world clinical experience working with service members, veterans and dependents.
The Sturm program is a great example of how theory and practice intersect for the purpose of making a well-rounded psychologist. There are other programs out there that cater to veterans interested in studying psychology. Adler University in Chicago has a master’s degree dedicated entirely to military psychology. The program consists of 10 courses and is offered entirely online.
Faculty members are primarily made up of former active-duty military psychologists. Adler also has a military psychology track within its doctoral program in clinical psychology. Although the online master’s program does not typically lead to licensure as a counselor or psychologist, it does provide an important foundation for those who seek to complete their doctoral education in psychology. The doctoral program at Adler University does position attendees to become licensed psychologists.
William James College in Massachusetts offers an emphasis in military and veteran psychology within its psychology department. Students studying clinical, counseling, organizational or school psychology are eligible to take courses that focus on military families, trauma and addiction.
Although they may not offer formal specialty tracks within their programs, at least a dozen other universities and colleges offer courses in military psychology or opportunities to gain important clinical experience working with veterans. This inclusion is a testament to the fact that understanding human nature and finding ways to improve the lives of others are important to veterans.
It should be noted, however, that these programs are not open just to veterans. But, I hope veterans consider applying to these programs. I am a strong believer that the men and women who have worn the uniform are well suited for careers in psychology. In general, veterans think analytically, excel in identifying and solving problems and possess the desire to help those who are most vulnerable. These are all key skills and attributes that effective psychologists need to possess.
I am grateful that our universities and colleges have recognized the importance of teaching future psychologists how to effectively work with and care for our nation’s veterans. These programs will pay dividends for veterans, educational institutions and society for generations to come. To use a nearly worn out phrase, “If you build it, they will come.”
*A previous version of this article was published in Military Times as part of Dr. Moore’s column “Kevlar for the Mind”.