Veteran Mental Health

Amanda Depew, a U.S. Airforce veteran and a graduating social work grad student, works to improve the lives of female veterans. She currently works to help secure housing for homeless veterans.

Depew, from Belleville, Illinois, technically completed her graduate school work back in August, but she will be walking the stage at the December Commencement and will also be speaking at the Commencement. Depew said she has had an interesting path to get where she is. After enlisting in the military in 2003 she served one tour in Afghanistan before returning stateside and serving her country until 2007. She then started her undergraduate in nursing before switching to social work, her true passion.

“Honestly I’ve always wanted [to be a social worker]. When I was 13 years old, I actually wrote a letter to the Social Work program at SIUC. I’ve always had that empathic spirit. I’ve always been a helper regardless. I just didn’t know until I became a grown-up that you need a degree to be a real helper in the real world. So once I got out [of the military], it took me a little bit to get my footing back in the civilian realm of things. But, honestly, coming back to school and getting this degree is actually what gave me that footing. It’s always been something I wanted to do. I just needed to be official,” Depew said.

Depew said her main focus in graduate school was issues facing women veterans. She said that it wasn’t until her senior year that she started to dig into veteran issues, and once she did, she couldn’t stop.

“It really brought a lot of things to light for me. [My research] made me realize that I, myself, played a role in [some of the negative experiences] as well. Which was something that I had to reconcile with. I guess it was more or less, I had to face those facts,” Depew said.

Depew said she once wrote a paper titled “Did the military make mental health illegal?” That is what she believes to be the basis of much of her research.

“For years [the military] has been proud to say how they break you down and build you back up. It’s time to acknowledge that you broke them down. And now what are you building them back up to? No one reaches out anymore. That has made mental health illegal in the military,” Depew said.

Depew said her main fight is helping veterans, and women, in particular, to find help once they leave the service. She said one of the main issues for female veterans is the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and how it can be abused in order to bully victims out of the military, which can often limit those veterans to the services they have access to.

“The victim is chastised and basically ran out of the service. When [the military] runs that person out of the service, it limits them access to the services that they really need, once they’ve been booted. That’s where my fight is. All of that, and it’s so messy. There’s a lot of women that are now getting loud about the UCMJ and the way it’s being used. So we’ll see how it goes in the next few years. That’s pretty much what my grad research has uncovered for me and that’s what drives me now in my social work,” Depew said.

Depew said she is also grateful for the opportunities she has had to work with Veteran Services at SIUE and other local organizations. She said one of the organizations especially close to close to her heart this holiday season this year is Got Your Six Support Dogs, as she was one of 10 veterans to recently receive a service dog. She said Conner, her service dog, has become one of her best friends.

“He’s been phenomenal. He is the reason I now have more structure. Shout out to [Got Your Six Support Dogs] for making these holidays fantastic this year. He’s like the fourth kid in the house and seriously couldn’t be happier,” Depew said.

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