USC Price School of Public Policy

Price co-hosts symposium focused on supporting military veterans, families

June 8, 2017

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USC Provost Michael Quick addresses the APRU symposium attendees. (Photo courtesy of USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work) More photos available on Flickr »

By Eric Lindberg and Catalina Vazquez

Price Dean Jack Knott (Photo courtesy of USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work)

Despite the many cultural and societal differences among nations of the Pacific Rim, they share at least one major commonality: the pressing need to support and enhance the health and well-being of military veterans and their families.

During a two-day symposium hosted by USC, leaders from universities throughout the region focused on strategies to improve policies and practices affecting men and women who served in the armed forces, particularly regarding health, housing, education and employment.

“A lot of great discussion will emerge from this to help nations understand the necessity of their commitment to veterans and military personnel and the stressors in their lives as they transition to civilian life during a really troubled time across the globe,” USC Provost Michael Quick said during his introductory remarks. “It couldn’t be more timely that you are here having these discussions.”

A joint initiative of the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and USC Price School of Public Policy, the symposium brought together representatives from the Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU), including Yonsei University in South Korea and University of Melbourne in Australia, to tackle topics ranging from disability compensation and education benefits for veterans to the challenges involved in transitioning from the military to civilian communities. Representatives from non-APRU institutions, including Yale University and National Defense University in Taiwan, also participated.

The two USC schools have been engaged in research on the topic of public policy and interventions for veterans since 2008, said Marilyn Flynn, dean of the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. Resulting initiatives include a military concentration in the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work’s master’s degree program and the creation of its Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families.

Flynn noted that early discussions with congressional leaders had indicated that considerable attention is paid to strategic planning for defense, with no comparable focus on planning for veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

“This planted in our mind the idea that we have been discussing ever since: What are the relevant issues and social responsibilities and interventions we need to consider as we began moving toward national policies and strategic planning for veterans?” Flynn said.

Many important research questions are linked to that broader focus, she said, including how to improve clinical interventions focused on suicide prevention and effective treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder; develop and reorganize systems such as the Veterans Health Administration to better serve military veterans and their families; and establish national policy priorities that define public responsibility for the outcomes of veterans similar to covenants adopted in the United Kingdom and Canada.

Guiding principles

Retired Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Talley outlined an overarching goal of the symposium in his featured remarks. Talley, who now serves as vice president in the global public sector division of IBM and a global fellow at the IBM Center for the Business of Government, described a letter he received during his first deployment to Iraq. The card, from a kindergarten student named Brandon, contained a simple statement: “Do your duty.”

“I’ve always remembered his remarks and challenged those I’ve had the privilege to lead and work with — you need to do your duty,” he said.

Now policy makers, nonprofit officials and business leaders need to join with researchers to fulfill their duty to support those veterans, Talley said. Most importantly, he said, those efforts should be infused with an overall understanding that veterans are not seeking sympathy.

“What they want is respect — respect that they’ve served something bigger than themselves, respect that they’ve answered the call, respect that they’ve served their nation, respect for their families that have supported them,” he said. “So how can we best enhance the health and well-being of veterans? I can assure you, whatever the policy or practice is, it has to start with respect.”

As he ended his remarks, Talley encouraged participants to reflect on a quote attributed to President George Washington that a nation’s character can be judged by how well it cares for its veterans.

“What a simple and profound statement, but what a great vision to guide your dialogue,” he said. “Your work is personal – it’s not abstract. It’s about linking thought and action, and it’s about, I assure you, saving lives.”

Saving lives

Subsequent presentations and discussions focused on four themes: the GI Bill, which provides educational assistance to service members, veterans and their dependents; the alarmingly high rate of suicide among veterans; disability and compensation; and ensuring a successful transition to civilian life.

The committee that steered the development of the APRU Symposium, which was chaired by Cherrie Short, associate dean of global and community initiatives and professor of practice at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, was made up of faculty from the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and USC Price School of Public Policy, including professors Carl Castro and John Romley, as well as research consultants, including David Pedlar, director of research at the National Headquarters of Veterans Affairs Canada. The committee’s vision was to bring together experts that dedicate their research and practitioner careers to identifying and addressing the needs of veterans across the Pacific Rim, with an emphasis on engaging APRU member universities.

What emerged from the symposium conversations was a sense of the many shared challenges among the nations of the Pacific Rim related to supporting military veterans, said Jack Knott, dean of the USC Price School of Public Policy.

“It really is a universal phenomenon,” he said.

Knott encouraged participants to build on new relationships established during the two-day event at USC, including collaborative research projects that allow for more detailed cross-national comparisons. In addition, he emphasized the need for policy briefs and reports that will extend research findings beyond academia, describing the moral obligation of scholars to engage policy makers, nonprofit leaders and businesses to ensure knowledge is translated into the field.

Christopher Tremewan, secretary general of APRU, said he was intrigued by the emphasis on disaster management, recovery and relief, particularly the social role of the military. He proposed a partnership among APRU members focused on disaster relief and resilience.

“As more extreme events hit the region, all of us have to play an enhanced role in various kinds of civil defense,” Tremewan said.

He suggested establishing a working group of member universities interested in pursuing a 3- to 5-year program with specific outcomes.

That is an encouraging development for USC leaders, who are dedicated to using the symposium as a vehicle to engage partners and researchers in long-term work focusing on policy change and social impact.

“There is no university in the United States that does caring for veterans better than USC,” Quick said, “and we look forward to hearing how we can do better and share our information with other Pacific Rim universities.”