Monday, November 22, 2010

South Dakota State U receives grant to train more rehab counselors for returning disabled vets

From The Argus Leader in S.D.:

Veterans disabled in Afghanistan and Iraq will benefit in the years to come from a new grant at South Dakota State University that will help put rehabilitation counselors in their corner.

The $749,000 award from the Rehabilitation Services Administration in the Department of Education will allow SDSU to provide scholarship dollars covering tuition and fees for master's degree students during the next five years.

That's important for several reasons, said Alan Davis, a professor in SDSU's burgeoning rehabilitation counseling program. One, a federal mandate is pushing for master's degrees for all rehab counselors, Davis said. And two, the need for counselors specially trained to help people with physical and psychiatric disabilities obtain employment and function well within their communities is expected to increase dramatically in the aftermath of the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"There are a lot of psychiatric casualties in war, and this is a part of the country where the patriotism runs high," Davis said.

Lt. Col. Harvey Fitzgerald, director of Soldier and Family Support Services for the South Dakota National Guard, said the effort at SDSU "seems favorable and reasonable to me."

"I know that our vet centers are tremendous in the services they provide, as is the Veterans Administration," Fitzgerald said. "I also know they are very busy. I've got to think that providing the correct staff and training to supplement what the government's requirements are ... is a win-win situation."

Davis said rehab counselors often will end up in state vocational rehabilitation agencies funded by the federal government, such as community health centers, vet centers and organizations such as the Paralyzed American Veterans.

As the only accredited rehab counseling program in the region, SDSU will draw students and counselors upgrading to a master's degree from South Dakota, North Dakota and Wyoming, Davis said.

In South Dakota, there are 42 rehabilitation counselors, 17 of which don't have master's degrees. Another six counselors are working for South Dakota Blind and Low Vision Services, two of which don't have master's degrees.

Fifteen of 41 rehab counselors in North Dakota and 10 of 29 in Wyoming have no master's degree, Davis said.

"They're important in the whole scheme of things," he said of the counselors. "They help these vets adjust to their disability, help them to seek sustained, gainful employment activity, and to remain independent and successful in their communities."

Virtually all the money will go to scholarships, aside from some minor administrative costs, Davis said. Students who receive aid will have to work two years in the field for every year of scholarship support they receive through this program.