Social Work in the Public Eye (September 2015)

Al BrewsterNASW member Al Brewster is a Vietnam veteran and cofounder of Battle Buddies, a volunteer-led program dedicated to helping veterans of military service, their families and significant others heal.

According to an article in Southern Maryland Newspapers online, Brewster says that moving successfully between the worlds of war and civilization requires a connection with someone else “who has been there and done that.”

The article says those who have served in the military have seen parts of the world and conditions that are completely outside of the American experience. When they try to readjust to civilian life, everyday occurrences — such as a traffic jam — can trigger memories of times and areas experienced during deployment, such as an improvised explosive device being just around the bend.

Battle Buddies trains volunteers, links veterans to experts who can help with issues regarding the Veterans Administration — like health care and debt — and has launched a mobile application to provide easier access for volunteers and participants to get involved.

“We’ve got people in different spots of the country, making noises about how they’d like to have their own chapter of Battle Buddies in the community,” Brewster says in the article.

Battle Buddies currently has 18 ongoing relationships (at the time of publication) where veterans and those returning from combat are paired with a volunteer serviceman or servicewoman who lend a listening and understanding ear.

Brenda NewellThe U.S. Supreme Court struck down bans on same-sex marriage, a decision that left NASW member Brenda Newell overwhelmed, according to an article in The Herald of Everett, in Washington state.

“It was hard to find words to express it. I have deep gratitude,” said Newell, who married her partner in 2013. “If five or 10 years ago somebody had told me this ruling would come down, I didn’t see any possibility.”

Newell was raised in Utah and Idaho where gay rights and sexual orientation were not really talked about or questioned. During her upbringing, the word “homosexual” was clearly seen as negative.

“There wasn’t anyone in my life who was out and visible in terms of who they were,” she says in the article.

After moving to the Puget Sound area, Newell said her awareness and openness grew, but coming out was not a one-time, easy process.

“I had to go through that on a repeated basis, with each new friendship, each new job,” she said. “It brings such stress.”

She says even with cultural changes, it’s still hard for young people to accept who they are and sometimes even well-meaning parents aren’t helpful.

“The hope from parents is that this is just a phase,” Newell said. “(Kids get) another message of shame, that there’s something wrong with you.”

Newell says she sees youths in her counseling practice that are really struggling, and there has been a significant increase in suicide rates for youths addressing sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to the article, having the marriage question decided once and for all means not only equality for couples, but hope for young people.

“Regardless of who we are, who our partners are, our relationships can be legally honored through marriage,” Newell said.

She is also involved with GLOBE, a group that serves gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning teens in Snohomish County, Wash.

 Elisabeth Joy LaMotteSomeone pulling a disappearing act after several dates — or even a relationship — that seemed to go well is a frequent topic that’s discussed in psychotherapy, according to a Huffington Post article written by NASW member Elisabeth Joy LaMotte.

She says this type of disappearing behavior is called “ghosting”, a relatively new term, yet it’s a long-standing exit strategy that exemplifies the concept of passive aggression. It’s even a common strategy some clients use to end therapy.

LaMotte says society tends to shy away from endings as they can be awkward and uncomfortable, so it’s easier to avoid them all together. But she says each ending is an opportunity for emotional growth, and proper goodbyes are important.

Concluding a relationship with the respect it deserves demonstrates the ability to own and articulate an independent decision.

LaMotte says it is ethically prudent for therapists to request that clients sign a termination agreement when the clinical relationship begins. Without such an agreement, therapists can unknowingly continue certain ethical responsibilities to clients long after the therapist has been ghosted.

Sammy RangelNASW member Sammy Rangel was invited to give a talk at the TEDxDanubia conference in Budapest, Hungary, because of his work in Racine, Wis., and beyond, according to an article on Racine’s

Rangel turned his life around after being released from prison, the article says, and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work. He had a turbulent childhood, and was a former gang member and ex-convict.

He now helps recently released felons transform their lives — and relates from his own experiences, some of which he shared during his talk.

“All people have some form of suffering,” he says in the article, adding that choosing to suffer poorly or suffer well is a choice. “Your details may be different than mine, but we all know something about suffering.”

Rangel has served as a counselor with various agencies and programs in Racine County and is the founder of Formers Anonymous, a local network of people in Racine seeking redemption and freedom from a lifestyle of self-destructive involvement with crime, street life, violence, addiction, power and control through change and recovery.

He is also involved with international organizations, including Life After Hate and the Forgiveness Project; and authored the book “Fourbears: Myths of Forgiveness.”

“It’s not as much about getting over the past as it is about engaging in the present,” Rangel said. “I’m living a life — a good life. It has its ups and downs, but it hasn’t stopped me from doing what I set out to do.”

For Rangel’s TEDx talk, go to:

Marti AndersonAccording to a Washington Post article, 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton plans to make issues related to substance abuse and mental health a key part of her campaign.

The article says Clinton’s policy advisers held discussions with stakeholders in Iowa and New Hampshire who are involved in helping people who are dealing with substance abuse and mental illness.

NASW member Marti Anderson, an Iowa state representative, says in the article that four participants in an Iowa Google hangout discussed the topic with Clinton’s senior policy advisers. They spoke about concerns, and what they think can help.

“I think the overarching discussion was that there needs to be more treatment,” Anderson said. “It was more of a listening post.”

She said the group also talked about helping low-level drug offenders who are in prison.

“We’ve been doing a war on drugs since I was a teenager, and frankly I’m an older woman now,” said Anderson, 64. “And it’s not working.”

According to the article, a Clinton adviser said Clinton believes treatment facilities must be adequately funded and insurance companies should approach treating addiction as they would any other chronic disease.

Clinton’s conversations on the trail and her advisers’ discussions with people working on the issue have made the subject a priority for her campaign, the adviser said.

The article says treatment providers, law enforcement officers, local politicians and others in Iowa and New Hampshire also participated in the hangouts.