Stephany (Robinson) Schroeder '08, LCSW, is a powerful advocate for veterans and their caregivers, and her holistic and empowering approach to behavioral healthcare has earned her a high honor.
Schroeder, a graduate of the St. Ambrose University MSW program, was recently named Social Worker for the 2nd Quarter by the Association of VA (Veteran Affairs) Social Workers.
The recognition places her in the running for the association's Social Worker of the Year award.
Schroeder is the home telehealth coordinator at the Robert J Dole Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) in Wichita, KS. "I've been with the VA for 10 years, and when I break down my career I see how everything has led me to this position," she said.
Schroeder earned a BA in sociology from Simpson College, then enrolled in the St. Ambrose MSW program. She completed two internships, one in Homeless Outreach and the other in Mental Health Intensive Case Management.
After graduating, she completed a Psychosocial Rehabilitation Fellowship at the VAMC in North Little Rock, AR. Schroeder then began working as a supportive housing case manager, helping veterans obtain and keep housing.
In 2011, she moved to Wichita to become the caregiver support coordinator and was instrumental in the implementation and development of the program.
When Schroeder became care coordinator with the Home Telehealth Program, she was able to use her skills in mental health recovery and caregiver support to assist and monitor veterans with behavioral health issues, and to assist caregivers of those with dementia or other mental/medical conditions.
Many of her 60 clients live in rural areas and they (or their caregivers) use a telehealth device to answer a series of questions daily. If Schroeder detects a change in the client's behavioral health, she immediately follows up and puts supports in place. "Maybe they just need help navigating VA services, or it may be a service anniversary or a holiday. The 4th of July was a bad time for a lot of my clients," she said.
"I'll follow up and we may talk about getting in to see someone or a possible change in medication. Maybe the change is caused by something else, say they are short on rent, I will help pull in community resources. We focus on care coordination so we can prevent things from getting worse," Schroeder said.
She is the only social worker in the unit, and coordinates care with a pool of nurses who, at the same time, are monitoring the physical health of the veterans they serve.
"I was always drawn to a helping field," Schroeder said. "I thought I wanted to be a therapist, then I met a social worker who told me I could do so much with a master's in social work," she said.
Her path to working with veterans began in high school. When she was a junior, she created and coordinated a project to replace a flagpole and improve the grounds of a community park.
When the park was rededicated, Schroeder invited the American Legion to participate in the celebration. She was touched when they thanked her for her work, and most importantly, for remembering them.
"That was one of my first experiences with that, and I remember my reaction was ‘Why would I forget you?'" she said. "I was so grateful for their help."
After the 911 terrorist attack, there was a swell of patriotism in the U.S. and Schroeder watched many of her friends enlist in the military. By the time she enrolled in the MSW program, she was certain she wanted to work with veterans and did so during both of her field experiences.
The St. Ambrose School of Social Work SAU established the first MSW program with an empowerment specialization in the U.S. Schroeder continues to use this approach in her work.
"I am always trying to find the silver lining in any situation and mental health recovery fits perfectly within that approach," she said.
For instance, some clients view a mental health diagnosis as limiting. "I'll compare it to diabetes. People with diabetes can still live a productive life if they adjust to the illness. Yes, you'll have bad days and you'll have good days. It may never go away but there are ways to cope with it and find new meaning," she said.
"I remind them we are always continually moving toward that north star," Schroeder said. "I pull out that empowerment perspective with every client."