About the NASW-NYS VMHTI
The Veterans Mental Health Training Initiative (VMHTI) is a multi-year comprehensive training project developed by the National Association of Social Workers – New York State Chapter (NASW-NYS), aimed at increasing the number of community health and mental health professionals clinically trained in the assessment and treatment of mental health issues specific to veterans and their families. VMHTI is supported by a grant from the New York State Legislature as part of its efforts to address the unmet mental health needs of returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and their families. NASW-NYS developed the Veterans Mental Health Training Initiative to educate and train community health and primary care providers on veteran-specific mental health issues, including among others post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, suicide, suicide prevention, and substance use disorders. The goal of the VMHTI is to (further) build the capacity of New York’s community mental health workforce to better serve our returning veterans and their families through the delivery of free veterans mental health conferences and other related programming.
Received LIVE credits for participating over Zoom
CE Programs Since January 2020
- Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders Assessment and Treatment for Veterans
- Military Mental Health Counseling, Moral Injury, and Guidelines for Earning the Circle of Trust
- Suicide Awareness and Prevention for Veterans
- A Closer Look at Moral Injury: Existential Challenges Faced by Returning Veterans
- Addiction Trends Among Veterans
- Female Veteran Experience Panel
- Screening and Treatment for PTSD in Veterans
- Suicide Prevention Theory and Practice with Veterans and Military Members
- Incorporating Peer Support into Social Work Practice with Veterans
- Veteran and Military Service Family Members Panel
- Minority Experiences in the Military Panel
- Moral Injury of Military Servicemembers
- Spirituality and Service: How to Make Meaning and Connect it for Healing
- Understanding Substance Use Disorder and Veterans
- The Relationship Between Military Culture and Social Work Practice
- Supporting Military Families
- Veterans Healthcare Training
- Cultural Humility: Working with Military Members & Veterans
- 2021 VMHTI Conference: Voices of Veterans
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Military Culture
- Working with LGBTQ+ Veterans
- Veterans’ Day Panel: An Exploration of Coming Home
In July 2020, NASW-NYS announced the launch of the One Team VMHTI Listserv. One Team is a resource for clinical providers and students to engage with a network of peers to connect, to discuss, share knowledge, information, and professional resources focused on work with military service members, veterans, and their families. This platform provides an opportunity for members to:
Share Information on best practice and relevant issues regarding:
- -Clinical practice with Military/Veterans (and their families)
- -Serve as a source for referrals
- -Increasing cultural competence
- -Share relevant community resources
- -Serve as a conduit to promote communications among practitioners, either actively working with a Military/Veteran population or those who wish to increase their cultural competence with this population and to identify emerging needs with the NASW-NYS Advocacy and Government Relations (AGR) Committee as they identify annual legislative priorities
- -Explore bi-weekly/monthly topics as identified by Listserv Moderator and/or Veteran Advisory Committee Member
One Team Listserv is free and open to anyone that is committed to meeting the needs of our Veterans and military family members.
To join the One Team Listserv, click here to complete the One Team submission form. You will receive an email to the email you submitted confirming that you have been added to the One Team Listserv within 2 business days.
The One Team Listserv is moderated by Alyssa Gibbons, LCSW-R, BCD, LCDR, US Navy Medical Service Corps 2009-2016 and other members of the VMHTI Advisory Committee.
The VMHTI introduced Voices of Veterans in 2020 to give social workers and allied mental health professionals in depth opportunity to hear from Veterans about their lived experiences prior to, during, and after their service. These panels include focuses LGBTQIA+, female veteran, & BIPOC experiences, 9/11, moral injury, peer support, the veteran family unit, and more. See below to view the recordings of past panels, and any upcoming events. Viewing the below recordings does not count for CE credit. This is for cultural humility and informational purposes only.
Click here to view the Veteran and Military Service Family Members Panel
Description: This will be an educational lecture and interactive panel; incorporating awareness and understanding of the military family experience. Speaker and panelists will address military culture, family dynamics, deployments (including pre and post), and reintegration, as well as the potential impact of PTSD and TBI on veteran families. Speaker will discuss roles in the family system that shift and change from deployment to returning home, such as co-parenting, communication, and home responsibilities. Workshop will cover healthy coping strategies that might be helpful for military families, as well as resources, such as VA caregiver support program, and others.
Click here to view the Peer Support Panel
Description: Our first panel featured the Joseph P. Dwyer program and included representatives of Joseph P. Dwyer county programs across the State, detailing who they differ and how they all support veterans through a peer support model. We were also joined by Dwyer Program legislative champions, Senators David Carlucci, Susan Serino, and John Brooks.
Click here to view the first panel on the 9/11 experience, and click here to view the second panel
Description: In these panels, we heard from Veterans about their experiences of 9/11. Whether it was the motivation for them to enter service, if they were already deployed, or were already a veterans, these panels discussed the diverse meaning of 9/11 for servicemembers.
Click here to view the Female Veteran Experience Panel
In this panel we heard from female military veterans and service members about their experiences breaking through sigma and overcoming biases in service.
Click here to view the Minority Experiences in the Military panel
In this panel, we focused on what it means to be a minority in the military, specifically Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).
Click here to view the Closer Look at Moral Injury: Existential Challenges Faced by Returning Veterans panel
Service Members and Veterans are faced with biological, social, familial, psychological, and existential challenges when coping with the tension that exists between military and civilian cultures. This workshop will provide an overview of military culture and transitional challenges, as they relate to values and morality. Trends of Moral Injury will be clearly outlined and discussed. Moral Injury touches on one’s spirituality, identity, and ethics, in a way that has large potential to be misunderstood. This workshop will depict the factors that can lead up to a Moral Wound, as well as it’s lasting implications. Presenter will also discuss ways to build meaningful narratives around this societal trend, in order to learn how we can better bridge gaps and create avenues for collective support within our communities. Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault
Click here to view the Veterans’ Day Panel: An Exploration of Coming Home
Veterans Day honors all American Veterans — those still with us and those who have passed— while expressing particular gratitude to living Veterans who have served their country during war or in times of peace. Just as the individuals who make up the military and their motivations for serving are diverse, so are their experiences upon returning and integrating into civilian culture. In this panel, we heard from a panel of Veterans about their journey leaving the military, how they are processing the recent withdrawal from Afghanistan, their experiences of anti-military sentiments, and successes and challenges integrating into civilian life.
The panels vast and different experiences provide a depth to understanding veterans I've never imagined possible. Thank you to all who've been open to sharing your life experiences.
I have learned more about the Military during this. session and yesterdays panel than I have ever before. Thank you!
I can't believe how much I've learned from the panelists from these two days. You all rock! Most powerful continuing education course I have ever taken.
Truly the best conference I have ever been to.
An an LCSW I have much experience in mental health in particular PTSD. I have become increasingly interested in working with veterans and registered for this conference to learn more about the culture. This conference, and in particular hearing from the veterans, has solidified by intention. Thank you NASW and all the panelists.
Hearing directly from veterans through the programs and conference has made a huge impact on me. Our veterans do not need to be saved by clinicians, they just need the support to heal themselves and one another. This is exactly what social work is about. I have a renewed commitment to my vets and other clients.
My father is a Vietnam vet. He frequently spoke about the brotherhood he felt and how much he missed that sense of belonging. Thank you for helping me to understand this more.
Having the listserv to get 24/7 guidance from veterans and other clinicians is one of the greatest resources I have ever gotten. The workshops are wonderful as well, however I can not thank you enough for having the listserv and guidance I get there available.
These presentations should be at every high school and every college in the United States. The panels give names, faces, and stories to our veterans. This is very impactful and thank you for making these available.
Meet the VMHTI Advisory Committee
The VMHTI advisory committee comprised of veteran experts, representatives from veterans service programs, relevant federal, state and local agencies as well as current and retired members of the military, military family members and other stakeholder organizations in collaboration with Chapter staff. The advisory committee oversees all programming and curriculum development of the VMHTI.
Melanie Corinne, Marine Corps Veteran, 2013-2018, Levantine Arabic Linguist
Melanie Corinne, a Marine Corps Veteran, served as a Levantine Arabic Linguist from 2013 to 2018, deploying with SPMAGTF CR-AF 18.1 and working anti-ISIS operations stateside. Post-service, she graduated from Fordham University with a B.A. in English, Creative Writing, where she also led the Student Veterans of America Chapter.
Her work has involved roles in media and veteran support: interning with CBS's "Blue Bloods," Social Media Strategist for Paramount+ Veterans Network. Her impactful work at the Joseph Dwyer Veteran Peer Support Project in Suffolk County involved consulting with veterans' professionals, aiding over 5000 veterans and families, and spearheading a community dental program for veterans.
Melanie was a Writer’s Guild Foundation Veteran Writing Project Fellow and serves on various boards and committees, including the Urbanite Arts and Film Festival and the NASW-NYS's Veteran Mental Health Training Initiative Committee. She was honored as a 2023 Woman Veteran of Distinction and inducted into the NYState Veterans Hall of Fame.
Currently, Melanie supports veteran initiatives at the state level, volunteers for OnwardOps aiding military transitions, and runs Sentinel Creative, a creative and media consulting firm specializing in veterans and artists advocacy. Living on Long Island, she balances her professional endeavors with writing, veteran mutual aid, and time with her family and cat.
Alyssa Gibbons, LCSW-R, BCD, LCDR, US Navy Medical Service Corps 2009-2016
Alyssa Gibbons, LCSW-R, BCD graduated from UNC Charlotte with her MSW in 2003 and has been in clinical practice since June 2003. She has worked with a variety of populations, mainly adults in various stages of recovery from MH/SUD issues. She served 6 years as an active duty Navy Medical Service Corps Officer from 2009 – 2016 as a social worker. She currently works for the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center in outpatient substance abuse and has a passion for spirituality as a recovery focus.
Amanda Matteson, NYS Army National Guard, OIIF Veteran, MSW
Amanda Matteson, MSW, is a doctoral student in the School of Social Welfare at the University at Albany. Amanda served in the New York Army National Guard from 2005-2011 and deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) from 2008-2009. She earned a Bachelor’s in Psychology in 2011 and worked at the Albany VA Medical Center for four years before returning to academia. Currently she works as the Program Coordinator on the New York State Senate sponsored evaluation of the PFC Dwyer Peer-to-Peer Veterans Program and has been a member of this research team since 2014.
Brent Russell, LMSW, Army Veteran
Brent Russell is a Desert Storm veteran who served from 1990 to 1992 with the 369th communication Battalion. He was released with an honorable-medical discharge out of Fort Dix N.J. Brent graduated with a Masters in Social work from Adelphi University in 2014 and now is a LMSW working on getting certification for his practice. Brent Russell is the Director of Veterans Services at the Mental Health Association of Nassau County which houses “The PFC Dwyer Peer Support Project of Nassau County” and also “The Veterans Health Alliance of Long Island”. He oversees 14 Veteran peer support groups and coordinates different events geared to engage the Veteran and family member to connect them with positive resources if needed. Ultimately leading Veterans and family members to good health and wellness.
Dani Koulermos, ATR, MHC, Army Veteran
Dani Koulermos is a prior active-duty service member who was Enlisted into US Army as a Military Policer in January of 2012. Dani spent 4 years in the military where she was honorably discharged serving both stateside and overseas commitments. After her service she returned to Suffolk County where she graduated with a master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling and Clinical Art Therapy from Long Island University with a focus on PTSD from MST with dual honors.
In her previous role as a Veterans Counselor at a VIBS, she assisted veterans in their therapeutic journey and transition into civilian life as a counselor in both rape crisis and domestic violence.
Currently, she is serving veterans part-time in the Substance Abuse recovery path at Outreach working towards her hours as a permit holder to complete for Licensed Creative Arts Therapist. Where she creates a safe space for veterans to process their trauma by using art as a tool for the events that have left them speechless as well as comradery and shared lived experience. Full-time Dani is employed through the Mental Health and Wellness Association as the Outreach Coordinator for Support Services for Veteran families in Suffolk County where she assists local veterans who are homeless or at the risk of becoming homeless in Suffolk County obtain housing through government funding.
Dani has been appointed as a Professional Peer to be on the Suffolk County Women’s Advisory Commission to represent Women Veterans in her community since 2020.
Dani also participates actively on the Veteran Suicide Coalition which raises awareness and education on the prevention of Veteran Suicide, and she is president of the Resource Coalition through the Northport Veteran Affairs Medical Center that creates relationships between providers, programs, and support to veterans on Long Island.
Dani, being a disabled veteran herself, has been an advocate for Military Sexual Trauma utilizing self-expression through her art to explore the depths of her own personal pain where she has turned it into a purpose by educating others on the effects of this invisible wound and silent war. She leads a team from the New York State Dwyer Coalition that platforms 18-part webinar series discussing the layers of trauma and gaps in service survivors of MST face in our current society to advocate for change and growth in programs to better assist this special population of veterans in their healing journey with trauma informed care and respect.
John Bourges BSN, Captain Army Reserves 2006 – 2014
John Bourges worked as a Registered Nurse from 2003 to 2018 in the Intensive Care Unit and Emergency Department settings, earning a BSN, CCRN and CEN, as well having been an ACLS & BLS Instructor. John was deployed to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) as an Officer, serving both as an ER and ICU nurse in a combat area of operations. He has twenty years’ experience with the New York City Police Department including Patrol, the Narcotics Division and the Detective Bureau. John also trained in Personal/Dignitary protection. He is the Program Coordinator for The Dwyer Veterans Outreach Program in Putnam County and was elected a County Coroner in 2015/18. John is on the Board of Directors of the Prevention Council of Putnam; formally NCADD; and a member of the Putnam County Suicide Prevention Task Force.
Mary Jo Gibson, LCSW, Retired Military Spouse
Mary Jo Gibson is a licensed clinical social worker and completed coursework as an addiction specialist. She received her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from Catholic University and her Masters of Social Work from Adelphi University.
Mary Jo presently serves as an adjunct professor at SUNY Empire State University, where she teaches a course on “Crisis Intervention.” She previously taught “Grief and Loss.” She most recently finished serving as a clinical social worker with the Behavioral Health Interdisciplinary Program at the Albany Veterans Administration hospital, a position she held for close to eight years.
Earlier in her career immediately after completing graduate school, Mary Jo previously served as a social worker at both Bronx Municipal Hospital and Catholic Charities Mental Health Clinic in Woodside Queens.
After marrying her husband who was an officer in the US Army, Mary Jo gained significant experience leading military family readiness groups. During that time period, her volunteer responsibilities included facilitating communications between the deployed Soldiers and families, providing resources to families in need, visiting and supporting wounded warriors, coordinating training programs, and mentoring family readiness advisers. It was also during this time that she co-led workshops on general wellness and healthy eating.
Mary Jo is a founding co-chair of the U.S. Congressional Spouses Group on Suicide Prevention and Education, on which she served during the time her husband Chris Gibson served in the U.S. House of Representatives following his retirement from the Army. She continues to support local chapters of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Since 2012, Mary Jo has served on the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Veterans Mental Health Training Initiative Advisory Committee. Veterans Mental Health Training Initiative supports the professional development of mental health providers through conferences and programs to better serve our returning veterans and their families.
Mary Jo lives in Kinderhook, NY, with her husband. They have three adult children.
Ward Halverson, Retired LCSW-R Private Practice, US Army 2000 – 2008
A former public school teacher, army officer, and father of four, Ward V. Halverson grew up in Mercer Island, Washington, attended Hamilton College in Upstate New York, and settled in Dolgeville. He is a graduate of The College of Saint Rose School of Education and Syracuse University’s School of Social Work. Halverson opened an outpatient mental health private practice in 2007 after a varied decade working with children, families, parents, couples, soldiers, and teenagers. The practice employed 8 therapists and admin staff and is home of SimpleThree, a treatment approach designed to end childhood defiance in about a week. From November of 2004 until March of 2006, as an army reservist, Captain Halverson was activated for training and deployed to Afghanistan as the country’s director of mental health for detainee operations. His team created a psychiatric system for captured Taliban and Afghan, provided for their several hundred MP guards, and supported combat presence patrols and humanitarian missions throughout the country. Upon returning home, Halverson began work with fellow combat vets through the Syracuse Vet Center as an outpatient contractor, and led the Veterans Expo committee as an annual opportunity to connect veterans in need with those most qualified to help. As founder and director of rapidly-growing Cornerstone Mobile Counseling and www.cornerstoneherkimer.org, he has been connecting individuals and families in need across 9 regions of New York State with 120-some masters-level licensed providers to attack generational patterns of poverty.
Anthony Rabasca, LT.Col., USAF, Retired, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Lieutenant Colonel Rabasca retired from the United States Air Force after 20 years of service. He is graduate of four military institutes including: Squadron Officers School, Air Command and Staff College, Armed Forces Staff College and the Air War College. His military experience was divided between two Air Force specialties: For eleven years he served in North American Air Defense (NORAD) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He was chosen to attend the Defense Race Relations Institute(DRRI) from which he graduated in 1972. For eight years of his career he served as Social Actions Specialist. The Social Actions mission focused on Equal Opportunity and Treatment, Drug/Alcohol Abuse and Rehabilitation, and Race Relations. His duties included conducting group sensitivity training that focused on race relations and sexism in the Air Force. From 1976-1980 he served as an instructor at the Department of Defense Race Relations Institute(DRRI) where he was in charge of curriculum development of subjects that included racism and sexism in the military. In 1978 he earned a Masters Degree in Human Relations from Oklahoma University. From 1980 to 1983 he served as Deputy Commander of the ROTC Detachment at Rutgers University. His last Air Force assignment was as Director of Training at the NORAD Operations Center located at Griffiss Air Force Base, Rome, NY. After retirement in 1988 earned a clinical degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Syracuse University. He was President of the New York State Association for Marriage and Family Therapists (NYAMFT) from 1999-2002. In December of 2001he served at the World Trade Center, ground zero, as a Red Cross Mental Health Specialist. In 2013 he retired after 25 years in private practice as an LMFT. He has been a member of the VMHTI Advisory and Curriculum Development Committees since 2016. He is currently working as a consultant to the Sitrin Outpatient Military Rehabilitation Clinical Development Program, New Hartford, NY and is a sponsor and participant in Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing in Twin Bridges, Montana. He resides in Rome, NY with his wife, Jane.
Lorraine Greenwell, LMSW, MPH
Lorraine Greenwell is the Deputy Executive Director at BRIDGES, a peer-driven, cross-disability service and advocacy organization. Lorraine oversees the Rockland County PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Veteran Peer Support Program and has a Postgraduate Certificate in Military Trauma from Adelphi University School of Social Work.
Karl Rohde, Army Combat Vietnam Veteran, Silver Star Recipient
Karl Rohde, Army, Combat Vietnam Veteran is presently Director of Veterans Services for Putnam County. He is certified by the VA as a Veterans Service Officer (VSO). In that capacity he assists Veterans in filing claims for compensation with the VA. Karl has been involved with Veterans issues on some level since 1989. He a Past State Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and is the founder of the Putnam County Joint Veterans Council that brings the various Veterans organizations of Putnam County together to work as a team for Veterans. Since the funding of Dwyer Vet2Vet passes through his office he been a part of the team and strong advocate of Dwyer. He is a horse handler in the Equus Effect Horse Therapy for Veterans. He sits on the Putnam County Suicide Prevention Task Force. Karl has 2 master’s degrees one in history and one in education.
Michael Shurmatz, LMSW, U.S. Army
Michael currently works as a Readjustment Counselor at the Buffalo Vet Center where he specializes in integrative therapy for trauma and Moral Injury utilizing ACT, DBT, CPT, and EMDR interventions. Michael has facilitated trainings on moral Injury through an ACT perspective in the WNY community, through the NASW NYS Chapter, the Veterans Mental Health Training Initiative, and VA. Prior to coming to the Vet Center, Michael worked as a Substance Abuse Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program (SARRTP) Social Worker at the Buffalo VAMC, and Outpatient Behavioral Health Senior Counselor at BestSelf Behavioral Health. Michael graduated from the UB School of Social Work, Master of Social Work in May 2019. Prior to going back to graduate school, Michael was the manager for the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Program at the Veterans One-Stop Center of WNY from 2015 – 2017. Michael served in the U.S. Army, as a Commissioned Logistics Officer from 2007 – 2011, serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2009-2010.
Michael Varmette, Lt.Col. USMC, Retired, MSW, MSSM
Lieutenant Colonel Varmette, USMC (Ret) hails originally from upstate New York. He applied and was accepted into the State University of New York at Albany where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree. During his time at SUNY he joined the Marine Corps in 1982 under the Platoon Leaders Commissioning Program. He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in May 1984 and July 1984 attended The Basic School, Fox Company. At the Basic School he was assigned as an Infantry Officer and upon graduation attended the Infantry Officers Course. His first assignment was to Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, where he was a Platoon Commander, Weapons Platoon Commander, and Executive Officer to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines. After this tour Lieutenant Varmette was assigned to the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Center in Bridgeport California. He held various billets of Mountain Leader, Unit Operation, and Chief Instructor. He was promoted to Captain and attended Amphibious Warfare School. Completing the mid-level career school, he was assigned to Hawaii as a Company Commander, Weapons Company Commander for 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines. He was promoted to Major and was reassigned as the Plans Officer for III Marine Expeditionary Forces, Hawaii. Major Varmette was assigned in 1996 to Marine Corps Systems Command as a Project Officer for Individual Weapons. Finishing that tour, he attended Marine Corps’ Command and Staff College and obtain a Master of Science in Systems Management from Capitol College. He received orders to Headquarters Marine Corps, Manpower and Reserve Affairs. As Division Head for Distribution of Manpower Management Officer Affairs he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. In 2002, Lieutenant Colonel was assigned as a Professor of Program Management and Leadership at the Defense Acquisition University. While there he was assigned to the Office of Military Cooperation Afghanistan as a military consultant. He retired out of Headquarters Battalion in Quantico, 1 July 2006. Lieutenant Colonel Varmette served on Unit Deployments to Okinawa, deployments with Marine Expeditionary Unit Special Operations Capable to the Mediterranean, including Somalia and Afghanistan. Retired Lieutenant Colonel Varmette was a program manager and consultant for Intelligence Systems from 2006 to 2016. He recently completed his second graduate degree from the Graduate School of Social Welfare, University at Albany in May 2020. He resides in Lake Luzerne New York.