It is your generosity and the generosity of our supporters across the country that allow the Pat Tillman Foundation to fulfill its mission of empowering military veterans and their spouses. Nationwide, over 400 Tillman Scholars are striving to impact our country and communities through their studies in medicine, law, business, policy, science, education and the arts. Every “Tillman Tuesday,” we are committed to highlighting the individual impact of a Tillman Scholar, focusing on their success in school, career and community—all thanks to your support. This week we sat down with 2013 Tillman Scholar and military spouse Donna Schuman who is passionate about serving veterans dealing with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and helping them seek treatment.
TILLMAN TUESDAY TIDBITS ON DONNA SCHUMAN:
HOW DID YOU LEARN ABOUT THE TILLMAN SCHOLARSHIP?
“I was working as a social worker at Fort Rucker, Alabama in the department of behavioral health where some of my colleagues were former military and some were still serving and that is where I learned about the Pat Tillman scholarship. Our Commander mentioned it at a meeting, encouraging the staff to apply.
I hadn’t thought I would have the opportunity to go back to school and get my PhD – it was a lifetime dream I didn’t think was going to be possible. I was seeing promising results from the work I was doing at the time with soldiers suffering from the effects of PTSD. I wanted to do research in that area, so when I learned about the scholarship I thought I would give it a try. I was very surprised and elated when I was selected.”
WHAT DID IT MEAN TO YOU TO RECEIVE THE CALL KNOWING YOU HAD BEEN SELECTED AS A TILLMAN SCHOLAR TO CARRY FORWARD PAT’S LEGACY?
“I was in absolute disbelief. It inspired me to want to be the best person I could be, even knowing I could never live up to someone like Pat. I never saw myself as a leader but knowing the Pat Tillman Foundation saw that potential in me heartened me to tap into those parts of myself that I hadn’t discovered yet. It inspired me to start standing up more and having my voice heard concerning behavioral health services for veterans.”
WHAT HAS THE TILLMAN SCHOLARSHIP ALLOWED YOU THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO THAT YOU MAY NOT HAVE OTHERWISE HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO?
“I was able to do research on developing more effective treatments for military-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The scholarship created the opportunity for me to speak to students and encourage them to serve in the Public Health Service, Civilian Corps, or join the military as social workers. Training future social workers to serve the military is something I am quite passionate about because I have been on a lot of different sides of military healthcare. I credit the Pat Tillman Foundation for my being able to speak to students, and being able to have credibility and a voice on these topics.
Attending the Leadership Summit introduced me to some of the best and brightest individuals in the military community and it was tremendously inspiring. We’re all doing different things in our communities yet inspiring and supporting one another.”
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO PURSUE YOUR DEGREE IN THE FIELD OF SOCIAL WORK, SPECIFICALLY FOCUSING ON PTSD?
“My grandfather served in the Navy at the end of WWII, my dad served in the Air Force, and my husband served in Vietnam. My dad’s service ended early because he developed mental health problems. My interest in behavioral health stemmed from that early first-hand experience. My interest in PTSD came from learning about the experiences my husband endured as an Infantryman in Vietnam and our shared journey in coping with those experiences.”
WHAT IS THE NEW POSITION YOU RECENTLY ACCEPTED AT THE UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY?
“I recently accepted a position as an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky, College of Social Work. It’s an amazing opportunity because they’re doing great research in the areas of military suicide and PTSD. There are rich possibilities for research there that I think can make a real difference, so this was an exciting choice for me. I will also be afforded opportunities to teach social workers who will later work service members and veterans. Social Work with our military veterans is very important to them and it’s very important to me, so it’s a great fit.”
THROUGH YOUR RESEARCH STUDIES IN SOCIAL WORK WHAT DO YOU THINK IS ONE OF THE BIGGEST ISSUES THAT VETERANS FACE AND NEED HELP WITH THAT IS NOT BEING ADDRESSED TODAY?
“I’m actually doing research right now on veterans who post their PTSD stories on YouTube and I’ve been talking with them about why they do that. I’m looking at the different types of things they’re talking about and what’s important to them and what they think is important for people to know about their experiences.
I think transition issues are critical. Often the transition process is more challenging than it needs to be. There are ways we as a community can support transitioning veterans better. What is so moving about the veterans telling their stories is that they are wanting to reach out and help others.”
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES THAT COME WITH BEING A MILITARY SPOUSE?
“My husband and I have been married for over 20 years. We were separated at times due to his temporary duty assignments. I was not with him during his service in Vietnam—we got together during the latter part of his active duty military career. Saying goodbye to my son as he left for deployment a couple of years ago was tough. It brought things full circle for me as a military wife and mother.
My husband and I share an interest in necessary treatments for issues faced by our service members and veterans. When my husband retired from the Army, he earned his Master’s in Social Work and he became a social worker – which I obviously did later as well. We then both worked for the Army Civilian Corps and continued our service that way.”