by Cortney Fielding

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer delivered high praise for the USC School of Social Work’s military social work program and its students now preparing to serve the nation’s war veterans during a Sept. 17 visit.

Boxer (D-Calif.) was invited to campus for a demonstration of the school’s “virtual patient program.” A joint creation of the school’s Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families and the USC Institute for Creative Technologies, the virtual patient is an avatar-based simulation program designed to replicate the experiences of veterans exposed to combat stress and help prepare students to interact with real clients.

Entering beta testing in School of Social Work classrooms this year, the program is the first application of virtual reality in a social work setting.

After receiving a run-through by program developers, Boxer spoke to school officials, faculty, students, community members and local media.

“I just had the privilege of seeing firsthand the great things that USC is doing to train students to better care for our veterans and our men and women in uniform,” Boxer said. “There are so many wounds that are unseen and still they are wounds that are deep, and you are working to address that here,” she said. “I’m impressed with the innovative efforts that are taking place here to speed and improve the training of military social workers. This is so important for our service members, and this is so important for their families.”

During her visit, Boxer had a chance to meet several former active-duty military personnel who are now training for a career as military social workers. After thanking them for their service, she expressed gratitude for all the USC MSW students specializing in military social work.

“When their training is complete, USC students will serve active military members, veterans and their families and help them cope with the unique pressures and stress associated with military life and returning to civilian life,” she said. “You don’t just talk the talk, but you’re walking the walk every day that you work.”

A vocal supporter of USC’s military efforts, Boxer worked with California Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard to secure last year’s $3.2 Department of Defense appropriation. While on campus, Boxer pledged to continue supporting the program.

Boxer sited federal statistics showing that nearly 300,000 deployed now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and are at higher risk for drug abuse, depression and suicide.

“As I’ve said many times, we can never ever, ever adequately repay those who have stepped forward and put their lives on the line in service of their country,” she said. “But what we can do and what we must do is to ensure that they have the finest quality of care for injuries that are both seen and unseen.”

PHOTO: USC School of Social Work Dean Marilyn Flynn, Sen. Barbara Boxer and Anthony Hassan, director of the USC Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families

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