Heather Trepal, the 68th president of the American Counseling Association

One of my favorite things about being ACA president is the opportunity I am given to meet our members and learn more about their work. The topic of military mental health is rightly receiving increased attention. This month, I want to highlight three ACA members whom I have become better acquainted with over the past year. Each of them is doing outstanding work and advocacy related to mental health with our nation’s military.

Tanya Workman is the licensed professional mental health counselor training director at the Frank Tejeda Outpatient Clinic in San Antonio. She works in the area of primary care/mental health integration. Recently, her facility was awarded a Mental Health Education Expansion Initiative grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). This grant will provide specialized training, supervision and internship funding for two master’s-level counseling students to work with veterans in the clinic. When I toured the clinic, I was impressed with the array of integrated care services available.

Tanya is ardently working on identifying and addressing disparities in care related to gender, ethnicity and service area. She has made some outstanding progress. Tanya has been teaching a class on coping with trauma at the facility since 2015 and had noticed that women were not attending. So, she created a group exclusively for women, and now she has many referrals and women entering care for trauma education. Tanya regularly attends our annual ACA conferences and reports that this gives her a chance to connect with other licensed professional counselors (LPCs) who work within the VA.

The second ACA member I would like to highlight is Duane France, an LPC who is the director of veteran services for the Family Care Center and the executive director of the Colorado Veterans Health and Wellness Agency. Duane is also one of this year’s co-chairs of the ACA Public Policy and Legislation Committee and a member of ACA’s licensure compact advisory panel. His website (veteranmentalhealth.com) contains a multitude of resources, including links to his monthly “From Combat to Counseling” column that he writes for CT Online.

I had the opportunity to hear one of Duane’s sessions at the Colorado Counseling Association conference this past August. He spoke passionately about advocacy for the military population, including on topics such as strength-based wellness and reducing stigma. Another important area for which Duane advocates is increasing the number of professional counselors serving the military population.

The final ACA member I would like to introduce you to is Justina Wong. She is a master’s candidate in clinical mental health counseling through the Chicago School of Professional Psychology’s online program and is also a clinical intern with the United States Veterans Initiative. In addition, Justina is the founder of the Veteran Suicide Prevention Initiative.

Justina’s interest in counseling with the military started in 2009, when one of her childhood friends finished a four-year enlistment in the Marine Corps and had a challenging time reintegrating into civilian life. At the time, Justina didn’t know anything about the military, but she witnessed firsthand the effects of combat trauma. A year after her friend left the military, he attempted to take his own life, although Justina didn’t learn about the attempt until a few years later because of the stigma that surrounds mental health in the military community. That was when Justina vowed to make it her life’s work to help military veterans reintegrate into civilian life and to reduce the rate of veteran suicides.

Justina was asked to attend the Los Angeles County Suicide Prevention Summit to receive additional training for her fieldwork site. While at the event, she had the opportunity to network
with other individuals dedicated to reducing the suicide rate among veterans. The idea for the Veteran Suicide Prevention Initiative came after a conversation Justina had with one of the individuals she met at the summit. The initiative’s focus is to create a network of mental health professionals who come together to share their knowledge about effective techniques for working with military veterans.

These ACA members are doing fantastic work to reduce stigma, address disparities in care, and advocate to increase the number of professional counselors who are serving the military and military-connected clients. As a profession, we need to continue to do more to serve those who have served our country.



Follow Heather on Twitter @HeatherTrepal