Veterans Service Scholarship Winners

By Heidi Tobe on August 18, 2017

On Monday we announced our five winners for Therapist Development Center's 2017 Veterans Service Scholarship. Today, we share a bit of each of their stories. We hope you are as inspired by each of them as we are!

Fernando Chavarria

Michigan State University

After receiving his undergraduate degree in communications, Fernando Chavarria had no plans to pursue an education in a different field. It wasn't until Mr. Chavarria was offered a career as a Peer Specialist that he began considering the social work profession. On a daily basis, Mr. Chavarria collaborated with clinicians and it was during this time that he discovered that the field of social work was one comprised of complex communication, relationship building, and collaborative efforts-something not so far off from his original field of communication.

During his time in the military, Mr. Chavarria saw what it looked like to push his mind and body to new limits, increased his confidence and determination, and learned that "impossible is just the body operating without the mind." Mr. Chavarria worked on the short-term inpatient medical floor of the VA Hospital for his first-year internship, assisting with discharge planning and high risk screenings. This experience provided him greater insight into the types of support and interventions provided through the field of social work. Mr. Chavarria has an innate desire to help his fellow comrades and wants to do everything he can to help fellow veterans stay alive in both mind and body when they return home. He plans to become a clinical social worker with the VA upon graduation and to move into positions of leadership that will allow him to advocate for organizational changes that will lead to more effective delivery of recovery-oriented care.

Dr. Brady is a psychologist at the agency where Mr. Chavarria is a Peer Support Specialist. Dr. Brady was so impressed by his clinical skills that she has had him assist in sessions with veterans. She describes Mr. Chavarria as "extraordinary in his authentic depth, ability to connect with others, and ability to convey understanding and accurate empathy” and goes on to state that she has “never seen anyone better.” Dr. Brady has seen Mr. Chavarria “able to offer even difficult feedback in a way which meets with acceptance. He has this essential clinical skill honed, yet keeps striving to encompass more of the human experience." Mr. Chavarria is someone Dr. Brady states has a great deal of life experience and wisdom and is able to use these to lead humbly and authentically. She expects that Mr. Chavarria's clinical social work career will "deeply touch many lives, and help bring about advances.


Jonathan Gill

The Ohio State University

As a United States Marine Corps service member who decided to 'come out' after witnessing the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Jonathan Gill discovered a community of hidden LGBT service members who created their own support networks due to the stigma of reaching out for help. He encountered many individuals who silently struggled with issues of substance use and mental health issues, failing to get the services they needed. It was during that time that he learned about his own identity, what trauma is like, and how one needs to seek healing once they are removed from the trauma.

During his first-year internship, Mr. Gill met veterans and non-veterans experiencing chronic homelessness. He witnessed and heard stories of trauma and chronic homelessness that he was surprised to find were in his own back yard. Mr. Gill is currently pursuing his Master's degree in Social Work at The Ohio State University, with an internship at the Chalmers P. Wylie VA Ambulatory Care Center in Columbus, Ohio. Mr. Gill’s goal is to work with veterans as a clinical social worker for the VA to address the needs of those transitioning into the civilian world, with an emphasis on homeless reduction, vocational rehab, trauma-informed care, and substance use disorders after graduation. Mr. Gill is interested in using his shared identity as a veteran to build strong therapeutic alliances in his clinical work.

Anna Stewart is one of Mr. Gill’s instructors at The Ohio State University and has worked with Mr. Gill over the last year in three very unique settings, which include a student-run free health clinic, a field seminar course, and overseeing his field placement experience. Ms. Stewart describes Mr. Gill as "one of the most motivated students I have ever worked with" and someone who is "humble in his approach to his work and education.” She goes on to share that “he asks for help when needed and never assumes he knows it all. His humble nature allows him to quickly build rapport with patients/clients allowing them to feel at ease." She describes his involvement and commitment to the service of others through his time in the Marine Corps and other campus and community volunteer activities as "commendable" and shares that Mr. Gill is someone who is already "an agent of change for vulnerable and oppressed populations” and that she "can't wait to see where his career takes him.


Kelli Hatzenbuehler

University of Nebraska Omaha

Kelli Hatzenbuehler has worked for the United States Army for 20 years. Through both her and her husband’s military service, Ms. Hatzenbuehler has learned first-hand about the sacrifices service members make, including being away from their children and spouses for extended periods of time. Through her service, Ms. Hatzenbuehler has developed a great deal of empathy that she will take with her into her career as a clinical social worker.

Ms. Hatzenbuehler recognizes that there is often a language barrier between veterans/service members and the civilian population and believes she is able to understand that language and the unique problems that veterans face. Ms. Hatzenbuehler was first deployed in 2003. During her first year of deployment, she lost three members of her unit. In the thirteen years that this unit has been home, 3 additional members were lost to suicide. Ms. Hatzenbuehler wants to assist service members and veterans when they are feeling hopeless and hopes to do so by working at the VA or a similar entity as a clinical social worker.

William Buettner has worked with Ms. Hatzenbuehler for over 5 years in the Resilience and Suicide Prevention Office of the Nebraska National Guard and has served in the same units with her on occasion for the past 10 years. Mr. Buettner describes her as someone who "uses her empathy to relate to people in crises and or distress...her empathy helps make the persons at risk talk more freely." He describes Ms. Hatzenbuehler as a person of integrity who "takes the ethical road and helps others along that path." He shares that Ms. Hatzenbuehler is "an expert in her field and looked at by her peers as a subject matter expert” and is someone who continually strives to become better at her duties, consistently rising to the top.


Kevin Rumley

Western Carolina University

As a United States Marine Corps combat wounded veteran who has undergone 32 surgeries, Kevin Rumley is someone who has witnessed first-hand the devastation and chaos of war. Mr. Rumley received world-class psychotherapeutic and physiological rehabilitative care, including services from clinical social workers at the Walter Reed Medical Center. This along with his early maternal introduction to serving others were catalysts for his passion to become a clinical social worker. It was through his military service that Mr. Rumley's belief in the critical importance of building relationships and active-listening were solidified. He learned that “only through listening can we begin to understand.” Mr. Rumley describes himself as “a veteran for peace” and strongly believes that clinical social workers have the capacity to change lives. He is passionate about recovery, resiliency, and fighting for social justice and is someone who strives to be a positive agent of change within his community.

During his first-year internship serving at the Buncombe County Veterans Treatment Court, he found that non-punitive treatment-based programs are effective modalities for reducing recidivism. He discovered the importance of self-care and boundaries in this difficult work. Mr. Rumley learned that it is through open dialogue and ongoing advocacy that change can occur and that to be the most effective clinician possible, he must remain open and receptive to his environment. Mr. Rumley has worked at NC Brookhaven Behavioral Health, a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business, for the last five years on the ACT Team (assertive community treatment). He plans to become an LCSW, LCAS, and EMDR practitioner, promoting change on an interpersonal level through EMDR and on a policy level with the goal of instituting harm reduction clinics in rural parts of Western North Carolina. Mr. Rumley additionally hopes to pursue his DSW in the future.

Susanne J. Loar served as Mr. Rumley’s supervisor for the North Carolina Substance Abuse Professional Practice Board for the past two years. Ms. Loar shared that Mr. Rumley is dedicated to assisting people-especially veterans in their recovery from substance use and mental health disorders. She describes him as "an advocate for veterans living in the community." Ms. Loar reports that Mr. Rumley has been unofficially running the team while he pursues his graduate degree and shares that his "innate intelligence, ethical integrity and vast experience have added value to the individuals and to the wider community.” She describes Mr. Rumley as "a great advocate for people on medication-assisted programs” and that he “brings empathy and expertise in the field." Further, Mr. Rumley “has been instrumental in setting up and following veteran's through the veteran's court system" and has been a "driving force in the local and state judicial system." Ms. Loar states that Mr. Rumley is "a tremendous addition to the field of social work" and that she "cannot think of a person more deserving" of this scholarship.


Shayne Wiggins

Western New Mexico University

Shayne Wiggins was drawn to the field of clinical social work after returning from his deployment with the United States Marines. He had a difficult time finding a military social worker who was also a veteran. It was through this experience that Mr. Wiggins realized 1. there is a shortage of master's level social workers who can provide services through a veteran's lens and 2. many veterans who have experienced combat trauma may feel more comfortable opening up to a professional who can relate to their military experiences.

Mr. Wiggin’s military experience taught him how to fight through adversity and serve with honor. During his deployment, he developed integrity, dedication, commitment, and honor to both his country and his shipmates. His first-year internship taught him that he is a culturally competent social worker in training and that becoming a competent social worker takes commitment and dedication-two things that Mr. Wiggins has. Mr. Wiggins plans to practice clinical social work with veterans who have experienced combat trauma, homeless veterans living with substance use disorders, and veterans who are survivors of military sexual trauma and assault. He recognizes that these are underserved populations that deserve well-trained and competent clinicians that understand their trauma and can help them resolve and manage their traumatic experiences through empirical translational science.

According to Kendrick Lockett, who Mr. Wiggins met through his internship at the Atlanta Mission organization, Mr. Wiggins is someone who "has a gift for working with those who have been subjugated and marginalized within our society." Mr. Lockett stated that "our veteran services have improved significantly since his internship began here” and that “he has excelled in his internship above and beyond the agency's expectations." Mr. Lockett describes Mr. Wiggins as someone who "exemplifies strong attributes and abilities in becoming a clinical social worker.


We at the Therapist Development Center believe that more can and should be done by every civilian American to support our troops and veterans, so we are now offering our programs FREE for any veteran or active duty military, including each of our scholarship applicants. To learn more about how to obtain this offer, click HERE. To learn more about our social work exam preparation programs, click HERE.

Haven't signed up for an exam prep program yet? Our structured, straightforward approach to exam prep will provide you with exactly what you need to pass your social work exam or MFT exam and nothing you don’t. You can learn more about our social work licensing exam prep HERE and more about our MFT licensing exam prep HERE. If you’d like to connect directly with one of our coaches, you can do that HERE.

We look forward to helping you PASS your exam with confidence!



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