WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — In Dr. Rip McAdams’ office at the College of William & Mary is a picture from another time. Smiling with his unit in front of a plane, the young man in uniform soon learned what it meant to serve as a Navy Seal.
“Being in the military wasn’t seen as such a thing to be proud of at that time,” he said. “I really saw a lack of both recognition and certainly then of services.”
That was in the early ‘70s. Decades later, McAdams has been focused on trying to give back to members of the military. Some service members deal with Post Trauma Stress Disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injuries. Others, face unique challenges adjusting to civilian life after being with a “band of brothers” on the front lines.
So, McAdams has been working with the Virginia Dept. of Veterans Services to develop a first of its kind college program launching in Virginia to address mental health issues facing the military.
Starting this fall, graduate students at the College of William & Mary will be able to receive specialized training in military counseling with an online degree program.
McAdams says sometimes counselors and social workers will learn about the “language” and “culture” of the military, to help create a safe space for veterans and military members to open up.
“It is very difficult to feel safe talking about difficult experiences if you’re not sure if you’re not sure if the person can empathize what you’re talking about,” McAdams explained.
Families also have difficulty transitioning when a loved one returns from deployment. The program aims to help families too.
“Their family has adjusted to them being away, and there’s new returns set up on both ends of that,” McAdams explained.
The idea for it initially came up in 2016, by Carrie Ann Alford from the Virginia Dept. of Veterans Services. After hearing about similar degrees in California, she pitched the idea for a few colleges in Virginia.
“They instantly saw the value and hopped on board,” she explained. “We kind of created a team proposal that I could take to the Governor’s staff.”
More than $400,000 was secured in the 2018 bi-annual budget by the General Assembly for William & Mary to develop the degree, Alford says.
William & Mary will accept 15 students in the program this fall and will expand throughout the year to include 45. In fall of 2020, McAdams says they hope to have classes on campus and will include a certificate program for students with masters degrees already that just want more specialization.
Alford says the department is working to secure funding for George Mason and Virginia State Universities to launch these programs too.