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Pro Vetus, which trains mentors to work with military veterans, is working with TC’s new Resilience Center

On a chilly night in late January, David, a retired lawyer, and Julie, a young Army veteran who served in Iraq, were talking in a classroom at Teachers College. David asked Julie how she’d been doing. The answer: Not so great. She had recently started college, but together with her job, the workload was depriving her of time with her 10-year-old son. She was suffering from migraines and some other chronic health complaints, and the local VA hadn’t been terribly helpful. She was anxious and tense, and at times seemed angry, as well.

This scene wasn’t real. David Snediker – who really is a retired lawyer – and Julie Duong, a first-year master’s degree student in TC’s Counseling & Clinical Psychology program – were role-playing on the evening they were to receive certification from Pro Vetus, an organization that prepares peer mentors to work with recently returned military veterans. Pro Vetus was co-founded by TC doctoral student Joseph Geraci, a U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel, and is now the focus of a study with up to 600 recent veterans that Geraci is carrying out as part of his work with the Teachers College Resilience Center for Veterans & Families, launched this past fall through a gift from David and Maureen O’Connor.

“It blows me away to see something we started come to fruition. People are saying, ‘My mentor really helped me.’”
— TC doctoral student and Pro Vetus co-founder Joseph Geraci, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel

“We’ve received absolutely positive comments from veterans about their experiences with our mentors,” Geraci said in January to the 20-odd graduates who constituted Pro Vetus’s sixth cohort of mentors since its founding a year and a half ago. “It blows me away to see something we started come to fruition. People are saying, ‘My mentor really helped me.’”

 

The Pro Vetus mentors are volunteers who hail from all walks of life, ranging from current TC students like Duong to Tom O’Connor, brother of TC Resilience Center funder David O’Connor. Some are veterans, but many are not. Over the course of a month they learn to make contact with veterans and sound them out about their status across five domains: education/employment; social; family/legal; medical and housing.

“On the most basic level, we’re looking for signs of suicidality – anger, hopelessness, anxiety, increase in use of alcohol or other substances, pulling away from normal pattern of spirituality,” said Snediker. “But that’s the worst case scenario. There are many other aspects to the experience of transitioning home from the military. So we start just by drawing them out on these issues and listening.”

“We’re a first relationship, doing the intake so that we can make referrals to the experts,” said Frank O’Neill, Pro Vetus Board Chair, who served in Vietnam. “We’re not health professionals, so our relationship with TC, and the credibility that gives us, is really important.”

In his remarks to the graduates O’Neill said he found it “personally gratifying to see people who care about veterans, and to see how passionate you feel.”

“When I walked through the airports after I got back from Vietnam and people didn’t acknowledge me – or did, but not in positive ways – I realized vets needed so much more than that generation got,” O’Neill said. “Today, vets are treated much better, but there has been no organization doing what we do. When you talk to someone and show them you care about what their struggles are, or you just listen – that’s what our role is and it’s unique.”

 

Pro Vetus Executive Director Aaron Green, who served two tours in Iraq with the Marines and was himself a mentee in the Pro Vetus program, told the graduates, “You are the boots on the ground, our eyes and ears. If something’s not right with a mentee, you communicate up the chain.” He urged them to stay in touch with one another. “It’s the mentor who’s the driver. But also the mentor reaching out to the broader mentor network is key. To say, does anyone have experience in this or that area? So stay in touch with your fellow mentors, because we can’t do it alone.”

“It’s very hard for young vets to admit that they need help, so we really have to walk them through it,” said O’Neill. “But once we show them we care and use the training we learned here at TC, they begin to open up about their struggles.”
— Frank O'Neill, Board Chair, Pro Vetus, and Vietnam veteran

To that end, each Pro Vetus cohort is assigned to a team during training. At the graduation in January, TC clinical psychology alumna Rohini Bagrodia (M.A. ’14) was named a cohort leader just months after completing her own Pro Vetus training.

“I was working at NYU, in their psychology department’s program that serves veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, but I really wanted to do one-on-one mentoring,” Bagrodia said, explaining how she first came to be part of Pro Vetus. “I signed up for the program here, and it turned out to be part of Joe’s study. I had met him when he presented at NYU. Now I’ll be facilitating communication among members of the cohort and supporting their efforts.”

Pro Vetus has been successful but has definitely faced a few challenges. The biggest has been getting veterans to open up about their problems after connecting with their mentors.

“It’s very hard for young vets to admit that they need help, so we really have to walk them through it,” said O’Neill. “But once we show them we care and use the training we learned here at TC, they begin to open up about their struggles.”

 

If Green is any indication, it’s unlikely that Pro Vetus has to worry about attrition among its mentors. 

“When I left the Marines, I was lucky enough to connect with an amazing Pro Vetus mentor who helped me through a job loss and a breakup,” Green told the graduates. I opened up to him more than to anyone. Therapy was helpful, but that’s only for an hour a week. I could call my mentor 24/7. Now hopefully I get to return the favor.” – Joe Levine

Click here to learn about becoming a Pro Vetus mentor and working to assist veterans’ transition. Click here To learn more about the Teachers College Pro Vetus study.  

Published Tuesday, Feb 23, 2016

Joseph Geraci
Pro Vetus co-founder and TC doctoral student Joseph Geraci with a newly minted Pro Vetus mentor (Photo credit: J.D. Closser)
Meaghan Mobbs
TC Counseling Psychology doctoral student Meaghan Mobbs and Pro Vetus mentor cohort coordinator Rohini Bagrodia (M.A. '14) (Photo credit: J.D. Closser)
Snediker
David Snediker and TC Counseling Psychology master's degree student Julie Duong role-play a mentor-veteran encounter. (Photo credit: J.D. Closser)
Pro Vetus mentors
The sixth cohort of Pro Vetus mentors celebrate their certification. (Photo credit: J.D. Closser)

 

Pro Vetus, which trains mentors to work with military veterans, is working with TC’s new Resilience Center

On a chilly night in late January, David, a retired lawyer, and Julie, a young Army veteran who served in Iraq, were talking in a classroom at Teachers College. David asked Julie how she’d been doing. The answer: Not so great. She had recently started college, but together with her job, the workload was depriving her of time with her 10-year-old son. She was suffering from migraines and some other chronic health complaints, and the local VA hadn’t been terribly helpful. She was anxious and tense, and at times seemed angry, as well.

This scene wasn’t real. David Snediker – who really is a retired lawyer – and Julie Duong, a first-year master’s degree student in TC’s Counseling & Clinical Psychology program – were role-playing on the evening they were to receive certification from Pro Vetus, an organization that prepares peer mentors to work with recently returned military veterans. Pro Vetus was co-founded by TC doctoral student Joseph Geraci, a U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel, and is now the focus of a study with up to 600 recent veterans that Geraci is carrying out as part of his work with the Teachers College Resilience Center for Veterans & Families, launched this past fall through a gift from David and Maureen O’Connor.

“It blows me away to see something we started come to fruition. People are saying, ‘My mentor really helped me.’”
— TC doctoral student and Pro Vetus co-founder Joseph Geraci, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel

“We’ve received absolutely positive comments from veterans about their experiences with our mentors,” Geraci said in January to the 20-odd graduates who constituted Pro Vetus’s sixth cohort of mentors since its founding a year and a half ago. “It blows me away to see something we started come to fruition. People are saying, ‘My mentor really helped me.’”

 

The Pro Vetus mentors are volunteers who hail from all walks of life, ranging from current TC students like Duong to Tom O’Connor, brother of TC Resilience Center funder David O’Connor. Some are veterans, but many are not. Over the course of a month they learn to make contact with veterans and sound them out about their status across five domains: education/employment; social; family/legal; medical and housing.

“On the most basic level, we’re looking for signs of suicidality – anger, hopelessness, anxiety, increase in use of alcohol or other substances, pulling away from normal pattern of spirituality,” said Snediker. “But that’s the worst case scenario. There are many other aspects to the experience of transitioning home from the military. So we start just by drawing them out on these issues and listening.”

“We’re a first relationship, doing the intake so that we can make referrals to the experts,” said Frank O’Neill, Pro Vetus Board Chair, who served in Vietnam. “We’re not health professionals, so our relationship with TC, and the credibility that gives us, is really important.”

In his remarks to the graduates O’Neill said he found it “personally gratifying to see people who care about veterans, and to see how passionate you feel.”

“When I walked through the airports after I got back from Vietnam and people didn’t acknowledge me – or did, but not in positive ways – I realized vets needed so much more than that generation got,” O’Neill said. “Today, vets are treated much better, but there has been no organization doing what we do. When you talk to someone and show them you care about what their struggles are, or you just listen – that’s what our role is and it’s unique.”

 

Pro Vetus Executive Director Aaron Green, who served two tours in Iraq with the Marines and was himself a mentee in the Pro Vetus program, told the graduates, “You are the boots on the ground, our eyes and ears. If something’s not right with a mentee, you communicate up the chain.” He urged them to stay in touch with one another. “It’s the mentor who’s the driver. But also the mentor reaching out to the broader mentor network is key. To say, does anyone have experience in this or that area? So stay in touch with your fellow mentors, because we can’t do it alone.”

“It’s very hard for young vets to admit that they need help, so we really have to walk them through it,” said O’Neill. “But once we show them we care and use the training we learned here at TC, they begin to open up about their struggles.”
— Frank O'Neill, Board Chair, Pro Vetus, and Vietnam veteran

To that end, each Pro Vetus cohort is assigned to a team during training. At the graduation in January, TC clinical psychology alumna Rohini Bagrodia (M.A. ’14) was named a cohort leader just months after completing her own Pro Vetus training.

“I was working at NYU, in their psychology department’s program that serves veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, but I really wanted to do one-on-one mentoring,” Bagrodia said, explaining how she first came to be part of Pro Vetus. “I signed up for the program here, and it turned out to be part of Joe’s study. I had met him when he presented at NYU. Now I’ll be facilitating communication among members of the cohort and supporting their efforts.”

Pro Vetus has been successful but has definitely faced a few challenges. The biggest has been getting veterans to open up about their problems after connecting with their mentors.

“It’s very hard for young vets to admit that they need help, so we really have to walk them through it,” said O’Neill. “But once we show them we care and use the training we learned here at TC, they begin to open up about their struggles.”

 

If Green is any indication, it’s unlikely that Pro Vetus has to worry about attrition among its mentors. 

“When I left the Marines, I was lucky enough to connect with an amazing Pro Vetus mentor who helped me through a job loss and a breakup,” Green told the graduates. I opened up to him more than to anyone. Therapy was helpful, but that’s only for an hour a week. I could call my mentor 24/7. Now hopefully I get to return the favor.” – Joe Levine

Click here to learn about becoming a Pro Vetus mentor and working to assist veterans’ transition. Click here To learn more about the Teachers College Pro Vetus study.  

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