The Vet Crisis Outreach: Power of a Story pilots Education & Prevention Panel in Social Work class at CSUSM

IMG_9987Left to right: William Felty, Jacky Thomas, Paula Wold, Jalitza Cardona (Jolly) Sara Correll, and Steven Padilla

by Marilyn Huerta

Many Vets suffer alone or in silence, and we say no more! – William Felty, USMC

Over the last two days, members of the community visited Cal State San Marcos to share The Power of a Story, and their goals are to educate students about trauma, PTSD, and mental health illness and how it impacts the lives of U.S. Veterans, their friends, and their families. The guests also had one more important goal and that is to encourage Veterans to ask for assistance when they are suffering. “Asking for help is NOT a sign of weakness,” they repeated.

Statistics show that over 22 Veterans commit suicide EVERY day and even one suicide is far too many.

William Felty, Post/911 U.S. Marine, and CSUSM-MSW student is determined to change this crisis. His primary mission is to #BeThere for his comrades and to prevent suicide.  As an Alcohol & Drug Counselor and one who’s been in recovery himself for the past 11 years, Felty understands and has empathy for his fellow man.

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“In San Diego County, we lose one Vet to suicide every three days and it’s been documented that more than half of the people who take their own life did so within 6 months after seeing a medical/mental health professional.” – William Felty, USMC

The Power of a Story began as a podcast produced by Sara Correll, but she wanted to do more so she sought others who had common goals. She didn’t have to look far though since she resides in San Diego — a military town. Felty was already working towards similar goals, so together they brought the program to Cal State San Marcos.

Dr. Jacky Thomas, a professor in the Social Work department at Cal State San Marcos welcomed Sara, William and Veteran guests with arms wide-opened. Dr. Thomas knew it was important for future social workers to hear first-hand stories straight from the hearts of U.S. Veterans who are living and coping with horrors of their past, every, single, day.

Sara served as the moderator for the discussions and passionately interviewed three guests – Steven Padilla – U.S. Army Retired, Jalitza Cardona – U. S. Navy Veteran and Paula Wold – U.S. Navy Retired.

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“If sharing my story provides some information that may help an individual in the future and help the MSW students to broaden their awareness, I’ll tell my story as long as I’m able. I so appreciate CSUSM inviting us to share our stories.” said Paula Wold, Retired Navy.

DSCN0030Diagnosed with PTSD, Steven V. Padilla shared his stories about being a Combat Engineer in the Army.  He explained his trigger of survivor’s guilt and says “it was supposed to me.” “It wasn’t supposed to be my buddy, it was supposed to be me.”

While deployed in Iraq, Steven was on a mission but just moments before he was to leave, his friend took his spot in the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle. During that mission, Steven’s friend was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED).

Today, Steven suffers from chronic back pain and continually takes meds but is passionate about being a Veteran who helps other Veterans.  Steven is also a consultant and is employed at headStrong, an organization that aids combat Veterans to heal from trauma.

Steven also told students that he remembers when he’d hit rock bottom and it was time to ask for help.

Grabbing his wife tightly in his arms, he said, “this is not me – I need help!”

IRAQ 1Steven shared photos from his deployment in Iraq and the MRAP that was hit.

“Don’t just be strong,” said Paula. “You have to be resilient!”

Keri C. Onan-Levy, first-year MSW student stated she felt s privileged to be offered this unique, beyond informative, inspiring panel in Dr. Thomas’s class.

“I was moved by the courage these folks offered by sharing their experience, their vulnerabilities and their ongoing work of healing and teaching.  I was surprised by their ability to share on so many levels:  they offered a human connection to what many of us will never know or can even imagine…, they offered practical, sound, important information of how we as social workers can hold and respond to Veterans in our personal and professional lives.  They engaged us and invited us to be aware and to let that awareness infuse our professional development and practice. I am so grateful for the time they offered to us and know that I will work to integrate their experiences and wisdom into my understandings and actions going forward.” – Keri C. Onan-Levy

DSCN9993Jalitza likes to be called Jolly because it reminds her when she was a happy little girl but said sharing her story in a public forum would be a new experience for her. She was nervous and not so sure she would be comfortable but afterward said she hopes to do it more in the near future.  The student audience was captivated by Jolly’s story as she expressed feelings of isolation and depression and recalled thoughts of suicide after being sexually assaulted during service in the Navy.

DSCN0022Paula, retired from the Navy said that in her day, it wasn’t called “sexual assault” it was known as sexual harassment and she remembered times when she was deployed and a victim of sexual harassment.

DSCN9999“I couldn’t complain because no one would listen to me. I didn’t want to be left out or be isolated but I was often the only female,” she said.

Paula continues to share a memory when she almost chose to walk alone through a long dessert into nowhere and to keep on walking because it sounded better than the fear of about getting back on the plane. The choice she contemplated meant she would never return.

What a gift for these veterans to share their stories with such honesty, courage, generosity, and, ultimately, optimism.  Sara (Correll) is right about the “power of story” to make things real, to link theory, knowledge, skills, and values with real-life stories.  Our MSW students were challenged and inspired by this presentation, said Dr. Jacky Thomas.

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The panel and the topic were powerful; I laughed, and, sometimes, wanted to cry.  It was wonderful to hear first-hand experiences of trauma and challenge, along with words of inspiration and hope.  Not only was the session information, but I gained valuable insight into the military community, as well as how to regard and respond to trauma in general; I wrote down numerous words of advice and wisdom. 

The speakers were extremely helpful in expanding my knowledge and understanding of individual experience, and Paula made a fantastic point about being able to relate to others.  We all share the common experience of being human, and having suffered in some way; for that, we should all be able to relate compassionately and openly.

The only thing I can say is that I wish I had had the privilege of hearing from the panel prior to choosing my second-year placement.  Having had them visit made me wish I had chosen a military-related option.  I hope to one day be able to help that very valuable population in some capacity.”  – Laurie Andrews, MSW Student, Dr. Thomas 511 Course

“I hope that where ever life takes you that you will be healthy happy and live fully. Good luck on your journey,” Jolly said to a student.

We hosted this panel this week, in order to educate future and current social workers, educators, and administrators of the traumatic experiences, barriers, and the strengths within our Military and Veteran community.” – William Felty, USMC

DSCN0047Steven shares his contact info with MSW student in case she wants to learn more about how to help Veterans.

For more information or want to help, visit:

Veterans Crisis Outreach Initiative
The Power of a Story
headSTRONG – Healing the Hidden Wounds of War

To learn more about earning your degree in social work, visit:
Social Work Degree Programs at CSUSM

Continue to share William Felty’s 22 Push-Up Challenge with others.

He is doing 22 Pushups every day in order to bring awareness to the fact that on average 20+ Military Veterans take their own life each day and to save more of them, he does pushups to remind himself and to invite others to #BeThere for a Vet. #BattleBuddies2019

For Vets, Military Service Members, and anyone looking for assistance call:
The Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 OR visit https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/


Marilyn Huerta
Public Affairs Communication Specialist II
College of Education, Health & Human Services
mhuerta@csusm.edu