Honoring Our Veterans and Alumni Who Work to Support Them

Monday, November 16, 2020

Last week on Veterans Day, we took a moment to honor and appreciate PAU’s veteran community for their commitment, dedication, and sacrifice on behalf of our country. PAU currently enrolls 30 student veterans or veteran family members and counts more than 65 in its alumni network. 

PAU is also proud of the alumni who support veterans’ mental health through their work at the United States Veterans Administration. In honor of Veterans Day, this story features three alumni who currently work (or recently worked) at the VA in Palo Alto on technology-based mental health interventions for veterans. 

Until recently, alumna Julia Hoffman worked for the federal government in one form or another since completing her practicum in 2003 at the VA men's residential PTSD program. (She left the VA this past year for Livongo, where she is the VP of Behavioral Health Strategy.) In a recent letter posted to her LinkedIn profile, Hoffman reflected on her work for the VA, which included working with veterans from every conflict since World War II and with the VA’s “brilliant clinicians and world-leading scientists in nearly every state in the Union.”

“When it became clear that access to care was the most prominent challenge, the VA set out to meet service members and Veterans where they were instead: their computers, their video games, and later, their phones,” said Hoffmann. “When we started building technology-based treatment support for recent returnees from Iraq and Afghanistan, and their families, we were forging a new path,” she added.
Hoffman’s team produced the first mobile app officially deployed by the federal government. “The VA mobile mental health program began with a single app, which has now been versioned by countries around the world to serve their veterans and first responders,” according to Hoffman. “The team went on to build a library of apps that have been used by millions and have been demonstrated, through peer-reviewed research, to help with conditions ranging from PTSD to suicidality.”  

Today, alumni Timothy Avery and Katie Taylor continue to advance the development and implementation of the VA’s technology-based behavioral health apps to create greater public access to mental health services to veterans and their families.  

Avery, a U.S. Navy veteran, works to facilitate the dissemination of the apps by training VA staff on best practices. Before the pandemic, he would travel to various VA centers to conduct the training, but now he’s had to adapt to conducting the training virtually due to COVID-19. Avery says the rewards of his work come from hearing the excitement of VA staff when they learn how useful these tools are. “They love hearing the individual success stories,” he says.   
Beyond working on the VA app team, Avery has found another outlet for supporting the mental health needs of veterans: yoga instruction. Avery is part of the Veterans Yoga Project, a program that supports the recovery and resilience of veterans, families, and communities. “Through my own experience with yoga, I discovered how to provide yoga in a trauma-informed way. I saw that some of the same theories that apply to psychotherapy also apply to yoga.”
Avery says he values his Palo Alto University education and the training he received there. It has equipped him to practice psychology in ways he never imagined. “Whatever skills you enjoy using, there will always be a way to apply them to help veterans,” he said. While Avery has been in the workforce for over three years, he says he still misses seeing his PAU classmates regularly. “Special bonds were created there that I will never forget.”

While Avery works on the dissemination side of the team, Katie Taylor, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and graduate of the PGSP-Stanford Psy.D. Consortium develops the apps. “I’ve worked on the VA Mobile App team since 2016. Julia Hoffman was my supervisor and a mentor,” she said.
Taylor values the sense of purpose this work provides. “It’s a unique privilege to serve this population,” says Taylor. “The VA works tirelessly to fulfill its public health mission by staying on the cutting edge of tech-assisted services.” Taylor also enjoys the challenge of adapting the technology to meet the needs of a younger tech-savvy population. “The apps that the VA develops are state of the art,” says Taylor. 
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