Navy Veteran Earns Addiction Counseling Degree

A Navy veteran reflects on his path to the grad school
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They've been able to connect me with every population I've thought I'd like to work with while I'm here.

Matt Sassmann
Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School

Matt Sassmann is a Navy veteran who served two tours—one in the Persian Gulf and the other in the Pacific, where he was part of the 2004 tsunami relief effort. After completing his service, he received his bachelor's degree from Kennesaw State University in Georgia. As a therapeutic transportation consultant for about two years, he supervised the transport of adolescents and young adults to and from rehabilitation facilities around the country. Then, last May, he became a student at the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School.

Here, in his own words, are some of Matt's thoughts about what led him to the graduate school, what surprised him about the school, and what he plans to do in the future.

I saw a lot of substance abuse during my stint in the Navy—it's a pretty rampant issue. And too many veteran suicides, often related to substance abuse. A lot of people fall into the same trap, and they don't get the help they deserve. They are such an under-served population. I started to think—maybe I can help.

I was drawn to the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School—I knew it was the gold standard. I decided to go for the Master of Arts in Addiction Counseling: Advanced Practice because I knew that would prepare me to become a licensed professional counselor in most any state.

And from the beginning, I have been surprised by how much opportunity is available to me through the program.

It's amazing, for example, to have the opportunity to begin your clinical work the very same week you start classes. It's quite a load, but it's so beneficial because you can immediately begin applying what you are learning in the classroom.

Given Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation's reputation in addiction treatment, they can provide what seems like endless opportunities to students. They've been able to connect me with every population I've thought I'd like to work with while I'm here—vets, young adults, health care professionals, residential patients, and many others.

My cohort includes two medical doctors, an industrial psychologist and a bachelor's-level addiction counselor. It's great to have such impressive people to bounce ideas off of in the classroom. And it really goes to show the caliber of the program—drawing in people with years of experience and education.

Right now, I'm planning on returning to Georgia to work with veterans and post-traumatic stress disorder. But I won't hold on to that too tightly because I don't want to miss an opportunity for something I may not know about yet.

Graduate school is a full-time commitment. I had to take a year-plus off from work, so it's tough financially. At the end of my first semester, I received a letter. It was a donation from an anonymous donor to help pay my tuition. I can't express how much relief and gratitude I felt when I got that letter. I look forward to returning the favor to others in the future. I have faith in what they will become with a Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School education.

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