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How UK’s College of Social Work Serves Military Populations

Watch as Chris Flaherty, director of the Military Behavioral Health Research Laboratory and associate professor, discusses the many ways UK’s College of Social Work (CoSW) serves military and veteran populations. In this video, he explains his own path to pursuing clinical social work and military social work as well as how UK developed strategic partnerships with the U.S. Army, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Department of Defense.

Through offerings like an online MSW degree with military-specific coursework, military behavioral health graduate certificate, and military behavioral health lab, the CoSW is committed to supporting service members, their families, and veterans.

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CHRISTOPHER FLAHERTY: I came to learn about military social work in kind of a roundabout way. It was kind of a happy accident for me. I enlisted in the Air Force in 1985. And I was given this big binder of potential jobs, and I flipped through. And I came across one called mental health technician. And having always been interested in human behavior and psychology, I thought, well, maybe this would be right for me.

So I did that, took that job. And that really put me in a setting to learn deeply about military behavioral health. I worked alongside clinical social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists. And that’s when I decided to direct my studies toward clinical social work. In 1992 I completed my MSW, and then I transitioned from an enlisted member, mental health technician, to a clinical social work officer and served in that role for the next 13 years until retirement.

Then I immediately joined the faculty at the University of Kentucky College of Social Work upon retirement and really wanted to find a way to tie my passion for working with serving military and veteran populations on this side of the fence. And that’s where we started talking about developing our relationship with the Army, competing for this unique MSW program out of Fort Sam Houston, Texas, which 75% of new Army social work officers go through this program.

We didn’t want to stop there. We wanted to really pump up our offerings of military behavioral health here on Main Campus, as well. So that’s where we rolled out a military behavioral health graduate certificate, specific coursework related to military behavioral health, work to expand opportunities for field placements in military-specific settings, and then recently just stood up our military behavioral health lab.

The concept behind the lab is to pull together all these various endeavors we have around military behavioral health. We have faculty members working at the VA, studying PTSD and innovative techniques to treat PTSD. We have researchers looking at the impact of suicide on survivors and the risk that that entails for them. We’re working with the Army to develop a data analysis agreement with them where we will become their primary partner for 1st Armored Division to analyze their military behavioral health survey data.

Research is vitally important in expanding and improving military behavioral health. That’s where the University of Kentucky can be a very valuable partner to the military. We have the resources here to gather large amounts of data, to analyze data, to measure outcomes, to put improvements back into the system. And it’s all about the best services possible to the service member, their families, and the veterans.