Alice Psirakis Diacosavvas ’98 used the skills she learned in the Honors College and School of Social Work to help veterans.

by Ela Schwartz

“Helping veterans is somewhat of a calling at this point, and I love working with this population.”—Alice Psirakis Diacosavvas ’98

Servicemen and women who meet Alice Psirakis Diacosavvas at the Department of Veterans Affairs don’t realize at first that their social worker is not only an expert on the adjustment issues and trauma that many veterans face—she’s also an Army captain who lived on a military base and has worked with veterans for more than 10 years. This is why Ms. Diacosavvas displays in her office a photo of herself in uniform and a plaque stating her rank. “They have huge trust issues,” she said of the veterans. “The picture of me in uniform lets them know I get military culture.”

The daughter of Greek immigrants who run a shoe-repair business in Manhattan, Ms. Diacosavvas came to Adelphi through a scholarship offered by the Honors College. She found the program offered “an intellectually stimulating yet very intimate environment. It was like a little family.”

She earned a B.S. in Social Work in 1998 and an M.S.W. from Columbia University in 1999. That year she also joined the Army Reserve. After surviving a two-week boot camp, Ms. Diacosavvas became part of a 300-person medical unit attached to the 344th Combat Support Hospital in Fort Totten, Queens, New York.

In June 2004, the Army notified her that it was putting her on active duty at the base mental health clinic in Fort Dix, New Jersey, to supervise a team of personnel who support troops being deployed to and returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. “Not everyone who comes back from war has post-traumatic stress disorder, but everyone has some sort of adjustment issues,” she described.

Ms. Diacosavvas was discharged from the Army in 2007. She spent the next year developing a veterans’ mental health program for the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, then joined the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in 2009, where she continues to counsel veterans and their families at the Nassau Vet Center, an outpatient mental health clinic in Hicksville, New York.

Her experience and expertise on veterans’ issues has earned her recognition from not just the Army, but from her colleagues who serve as mental health professionals as well. Since 2009, she has served on the advisory committee of the New York State National Association of Social Workers (NYS-NASW) campaign to educate mental health providers on treating veterans and their families. In 2012, she presented at an international trauma conference in Jerusalem about a treatment modality she and her colleague created for clinicians working with veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, she teaches Introduction to Social Work at St. John’s University as an adjunct professor.

She enjoys her role inspiring students to become social workers. As the only social work student in the Honors College during her years at Adelphi, she believes that “social work is the type of field most high school students are unfamiliar with and don’t realize may be a career they’d like to pursue. I would definitely recommend more students look into social work. I’ve had several students get an M.S.W. after being inspired by my class.”

Additional reporting by Samantha Stainburn, from a piece that originally appeared in the Adelphi University Magazine Fall 2011 edition.

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