As President of the Association of VA Social Workers (AVASW), a professional organization for social workers employed by the VA, VA social work trainees, and retired VA social workers, I get a variety of inquiries from organizations or individuals who are looking to connect with VA social workers. A few months ago, I was contacted by one of the promoters of Almost Sunrise looking for a way to expose VA social workers and maybe even VA employees to the film. The more I learned about the film and their bigger mission to raise awareness about veteran suicide, moral injury and alternative therapies and/or treatment, I knew that I had to be find a way to work with this great team. Every email interchange or phone call with a member of the Almost Sunrise team has confirmed that developing a partnership with this group was a great decision.
As a trained mental health provider, I am accustomed to talking about heavy topics such as depression, PTSD, and suicide with my colleagues. I have been so impressed with the knowledge and sensitivity that the film’s team has brought to our discussions about these issues. The film does an amazing job of introducing the concept of moral injury and emphasizing a theme of hope for veterans, their families and caregivers who are struggling upon returning from combat. Not only did the film tackle a difficult subject such as moral injury, they introduced the practice of meditation and connecting with nature as effective treatment options for veterans. Considering that VA is implementing more holistic treatments or nature-related treatments every day across the country, it was great to see the film showcase how beneficial they can be. With all that said, it was no surprise to me when the film recently won the NASW 2017 Media Award last month.
AVASW recently hosted a screening on May 4th in Nashville during the VA Social Work Leadership Council Face-to-Face Strategic Planning meeting. This Council consists of the National Director for Social Work, National Social Work program managers, and a select group of other social work leaders. The film was extremely well received by the Leadership Council but also by the Executive Leadership Team members from the Nashville VA. Following the viewing of the film, there was great discussion about how well moral injury was explained and how impactful it was to hear the honest description of these veterans’ experiences. In addition, many of the viewers commented on how valuable it was to have the experiences of the families included in the film. As social workers, we are not only working with the veterans. We are working with their families, caregivers and supporters. Many of the viewers commented on how they wanted their social workers or staff to view the film so I was thrilled to be able to connect those interested directly with the PR team for the film so they could start setting up additional screenings.
AVASW will be hosting another screening in October at the Society for Social Work Leaders in Healthcare conference in Baltimore. But, we are not stopping there! Whether it be in my role as AVASW President or as a VA social worker or just a fan of the film, I look forward to continuing to help the Almost Sunrise team make connections across the VA and carry out their mission to raise awareness for veteran suicide and moral injury.
Mandy Kalins, LCSW
Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital
Social Work Clinical Manager for Mental Health & EAP Coordinator