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Reinforcing a need: UIHC social worker joins Iowa National Guard, offers support to returning soldiers

Dan Grinstead
Dan Grinstead, a social worker at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, is meeting with soldiers who have recently returned home from war, referring them to resources addressing emotional, financial, and other readjustment issues. Photo by Tom Jorgensen.
   

Dan Grinstead knew he could make a difference to soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. So at the age of 56, he decided to become one.

Grinstead, a social worker at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, had long been troubled by news reports of returning soldiers suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), committing suicide, or struggling to readjust to domestic life. He had often heard of the dire need for social workers from his colleague Mike Gummow, a resident in the Department of Psychiatry, who provides mental health services as a member of the Iowa National Guard.

“I followed the stories and I talked to Mike, and I thought that’s something I might be able to have an impact on,” Grinstead says.

The issue also hit close to home: Grinstead’s son-in-law is on his second deployment to Iraq. Grinstead’s father also served in the Navy during World War II.

But Grinstead wondered—what was the best way to help returning soldiers? He wanted to assist in a way that would show respect and build credibility.

“One way to do that is to show that I was willing to do exactly what they are. That means putting on the uniform and being willing to take the same actions,” including being deployed, he says. “That’s how I got from point A to point B, from never having any military experience to deciding it’s time to do something. It’s time to sign up.”

So in August 2007, Grinstead called an Iowa National Guard recruiter.

“I said, ‘I’m interested, but there’s a major problem,’” Grinstead recalls. “‘I’m too old.’”

He had never considered military service before. The Vietnam War was under way when he graduated from high school, and he wasn’t interested in enlisting at the time. But now he felt he had skills that could be useful to the military.

Grinstead, now 57, was encouraged to begin the application process in spite of his age. Seven months later—after passing physicals and obtaining an age waiver—he began his service.

 

"[Posttraumatic stress disorder] is an injury just like any other injury. If you broke your arm, you would get that fixed. This is the same thing."

—Dan Grinstead

   

One weekend each month, Grinstead, a first lieutenant, travels to Camp Dodge, north of Des Moines, where he and Gummow often meet with soldiers who have recently returned home from war, referring them to resources addressing emotional, financial, and other readjustment issues.

One of many difficulties facing some returning soldiers is PTSD, which Grinstead emphasizes to the soldiers is not a sign of weakness. His job often involves convincing the soldiers to seek help.

“It’s an injury just like any other injury,” he often tells them. “If you broke your arm, you would get that fixed. This is the same thing.”

Returning soldiers also face financial and family-related stress. War affects everyone, so Grinstead also works with families of soldiers and the issues surrounding welcoming back a family member who has been absent for several years.

In many ways, the work is similar to what he does at UIHC, where he has worked for 33 years, Grinstead says.

“It’s gathering information about resources and talking to people about resources, identifying problems and trying to find solutions,” he says. The challenge, he says, has been learning a new set of military-based resources.

In the spring, Grinstead expects to attend Officer Basic Leaders Course, a 25-day course at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, where he’ll learn fundamental skills such as shooting a gun and using a compass.

Grinstead says his family, colleagues, and friends have been supportive of his late-in-life military career.

“The attitude today is that we don’t want to mess up the way we did after Vietnam and not work with the soldiers coming back,” he says. “We want to do the right thing, and this is all part of doing the right thing.”

by Madelaine Jerousek-Smith

Office of University Relations. Copyright The University of Iowa 2006. All rights reserved.