USC program will teach social workers how to work with veterans - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

USC program will teach social workers how to work with veterans

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

A program just launched at the University of South Carolina's College of Social Work is teaching social workers the ins and outs of working with veterans.

Nancy Brown, a professor at the school, helped start the program and did so for personal reasons.

Brown's son, an Army reservist, served in Iraq. But it was her son's best friend, Mills Bigham, who showed her just how bad things can get.

"My son had said, 'You know, Mills is having a really tough time,'" said Brown. "And it just got worse."

In 2009, at the age of 23, Bigham took his own life. His sister, Anna, would go on to start Hidden Wounds, a Columbia-based nonprofit, in his honor. Brown felt compelled to help, too.

"I felt like I wasn't paying enough attention, so after this happened I was just devastated," said Brown.

So Brown used her position to start a certificate program for her graduate students, making sure the social workers of the future are well-versed in the military, challenges that face veterans, and their available healthcare options.

Part of the program deals with difficult conversations.

"When I talk with students about suicide, I remind them that it's okay to talk about it," said Brown. "You don't cause it by talking about it. But not talking about it, I guarantee is a much larger mistake. Being direct, talking about it, asking very specific questions is something everybody can learn."

Brown's program right now is only offered to grad students working on their MSW, but within a year she hopes to open it up to the general public, to anyone who might be in a position to spot the warning signs.

Bigham's death is just one story. The Department of Defense estimates 22 veterans take their own lives each day. It's a number Brown is determined to lower.

"The freedom of our nation has come off the backs of 19-year-old kids, 20-year-old kids, and we owe them something," said Brown.

Copyright 2013 WIS. All rights reserved.

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