Combat Veterans

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Combat Veterans certificate program poster

Designed for people interested in working with veterans who have been exposed to the trauma of war or military conflict, the Combat Veterans Certificate Program includes an option for current MSW students, and one for Human Service Professionals with a minimum of a bachelors degree in a human services field.

The first course in the certificate program, Embracing the Stories of War, uses an immersive, storytelling approach to deepen students' understanding of the military cycle, from enlistment, basic training, the experience of war, and post-war challenges. This is a standalone course. For many students and human service professionals, the first course will be all they need.

The second course, Sharing the Burden of War, focuses on the difficult and challenging realities veterans face from a macro practice perspective, with an emphasis on improving policies and programs to better meet their needs.

The third course, Healing the Wounds of War, focuses on the differences between treatment and healing, the overlap and unique features of combat injuries (post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, and moral injury), and the role complex trauma plays in post-military adjustment, including the need to assess for and address pre-military trauma.

All three courses were created by instructors Tina Thompson and Glenn Stutzky. Embracing the Stories of War was selected for the 6th Annual SAGE/CSWE Award for Innovative Teaching in Social Work Education and received Honorable Mention in the 2017 MSU AT&T Instructional Technology Awards for Best Fully Online Course.

All three courses are online and accessible to MSW students throughout the state and human service professionals throughout the country.

Frequently Asked Questions

+Does the content covered in this certificate apply to all veterans?

Yes! Most of the content covered in this certificate program applies to ALL veterans, such as military history and culture, reasons for enlisting (or the experience of being drafted), the purpose and rationale of basic training, military masculinity (which impacts both men and women), mental health stigma, and military sexual trauma.

Also covered are the common challenges experienced when transitioning out of the military, such as underemployment/unemployment, poverty, homelessness, incarceration, and impact on the family (partner, children, etc.), all of which play a role in the current veteran suicide rate.

Students also learn about the system of care available to veterans, including the VA, Vet Centers, and non-profit organizations working to address the veteran suicide epidemic.

+Why do we focus on COMBAT veterans?

The certificate program focuses on complex trauma, with combat being just one layer of this. Students learn about pre-military trauma (ACEs) and the role it plays in enlistment1 and post-deployment adjustment, including depression and Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS)2, as well as suicidal thoughts and attempts3.

Combat exposure in and of itself doesn’t lead to suicide, but combat exposure does increase risk for PTS, depression, and substance abuse4, as well as moral injury5, all of which increase suicide risk.

A 2015 meta-analysis found that exposure to killing and other war atrocities corresponded to a 43% increased risk for suicidal behavior, which included ideation, attempts, and death6.

Combat trauma can result in multiple types of injuries, such as Traumatic Brain Injury, PTS, and moral injury. Students in this certificate program explore these injuries, how they impact the brain in different ways, how they are often overlapping, and how they each require different therapeutic approaches.

While the factors contributing to veteran suicide are complex, and not all veterans who die by suicide have experienced combat, we spend a great deal of time exploring combat trauma, as the experience of combat is far removed from what most civilians know and understand.

In order to bridge this divide between combat veterans and human service professionals, it is important for them to hear these veterans’ stories with an open mind and open heart as they develop a deeper understanding and empathy for what combat veterans have experienced.

1Blosnich, J. R., Dichter, M. E., Cerulli, C., Batten, S. V., & Bossarte, R. M. (2014). Disparities in Adverse Childhood Experiences among individuals with a history of military service. JAMA Psychiatry, 71(9), 1041-1048. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.724

2Cabrera, O. A., Hoge, C. W., Bliese, P. D., Castro, C. A., & Messer, S. C. (2007). Childhood adversity and combat as predictors of depression and post-traumatic stress i deployed troops. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 33(2), 77-82. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2007.03.019

3Carroll, T. D., Currier, J. M., McCormick, W. H., Drescher, K. D. (2017), Adverse Childhood Experiences and risk for suicidal behavior in male Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seeking PTSD treatment. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 9(5), 583-586.

4National Center for PTSD. (n.d.) Combat exposure. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved from

5National Center for PTSD. (n.d.). Moral injury in the context of war. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved from

6Bryan, C. J., Griffith, J. E., Pace, B. T., Hunkson, K., O’Bryan, A. O., Clemans, T. A., & Imel, Z. E. (2015). Combat exposure and risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors among military personnel and veterans: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 45(5), 633-649. Doi: 10.1111/sltb.12163

+Who are the veterans involved in the certificate program?

Veterans who served in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq have shared their stories for Embracing the Stories of War. Students also learn from veterans who served in the Korean War and Gulf War, as well as those who served in the military in other countries. These veterans represent men and women, commissioned and non-commissioned service members, those who enlisted and those who were drafted, as well as those who served active duty across various branches and in the National Guard.

"As a social worker, this class has allowed me to understand the nuanced experiences of combat veterans and the challenges they face during and after their service. As a daughter of a Vietnam Veteran, this class profoundly changed my understanding of and my relationship with my father." ~Kristen Chapman-McLarty, LMSW, CAADC

Current MSW Students

The Combat Veterans Certificate Program is open to both Clinical and OCL students and requires satisfactory completion (minimum grade of 3.0) of the following:

  • SW 491: Embracing the Stories of War (2 credits, full summer session)
  • SW 891: Sharing the Burden of War (2 credits, fall of advanced concentration year)
  • SW 891: Healing the Wounds of War (2 credits, spring of advanced concentration year)

Note: Students are required to take these three classes in the order outlined above, as each course leads into the next. Taking these courses out of order will result in important foundational content being missed.

Specialized veteran-related field placement in the advanced concentration year.

Participation in specialized liaison group (accessible via online meeting space) in the advanced concentration year.

Contact Person

Tina Thompson, LMSW

MSW Certificate Application

“Being a part of the class, Embracing the Stories of War, has provided me with the opportunity to not only learn about the different eras of war, but to conduct a self-exploration as it pertains to my experiences of combat. I would recommend this class not only to civilian students, but also to veterans.” ~Tiesha Taylor, VA Social Worker and OEF Veteran

Non-Credit for Human Service Professionals

Not a current MSU student? Interested in working with this population and want to learn more? Apply for the first class, Embracing the Stories of War!

Designed to meet the needs of service providers in the field, the non-credit registration option allows those with a minimum of a bachelors degree in a human service related field and an interest in learning more about combat veterans an opportunity to complete this coursework alongside registered MSU students - same classes, same experience, lower cost! Each class costs $500, plus the cost of course materials.

The School of Social Work will designate funds for veterans scholarships equal to a portion of the revenue from non-credit registrations.

Program Components

The Combat Veterans Certificate Program requires satisfactory completion of the following:

  • Course 1: Embracing the Stories of War (next offering starts May 2023)
  • Course 2: Sharing the Burden of War
  • Course 3: Healing the Wounds of War

Note: These courses must be taken in order, as each course leads into the next. Taking these courses out of order will result in important foundational content being missed.

Continuation into Course 2 and 3 is not automatic; this will depend on satisfactory completion of Course 1 (a grade of at least 80%), and available “seats” which are very limited.

You will receive a Certificate of Course Completion for each course, but all 3 courses are required for the full Combat Veterans Certificate.

To apply for the first class, please complete the non-credit registration application. If accepted, you will receive information on registration and purchasing the necessary course materials. Once accepted and registered for the course, a refund cannot be issued.

Please note: CEUs are not available through completion of the non-credit certificate program.

Contact Person

Tina Thompson, LMSW

Apply Now!

"The Combat Veterans Certification program has significantly enhanced my ability to treat combat veterans, by highlighting the impact of moral injury on our returning troops. The material is comprehensive and challenging, yet, the course is designed to present the material in ways that promote the learning process. This course is a must for anyone working with combat veterans. My hope is that more universities/colleges will use this model to develop similar programs to better address the needs of this deserving population." ~Rosie Spagnuolo Bickert, LMSW, ACSW