Brown School Graduate Takes Systematic Approach to Solving Veteran Issues

Alumni; Social Work

Jennifer Goetz eagerly awaited her rejection letter from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

“WashU was the only school I wanted to go to, but I never thought I would get in,” Goetz said. “I remember thinking, ‘I wish they would hurry up and reject me so I can apply to other schools.’”

The letter never came. And why would it? Goetz has had a long and successful career as an active duty and reserve officer in the Air Force, and she has degrees in sociology and education and a passion for serving others.

Yet, like many of the veterans she has met on campus, Goetz didn’t think she belonged at an elite university.

“I’ve heard veterans say, ‘I’m too old. I’m not smart enough. I don’t fit in with these college kids,’” Goetz says. “I knew I was qualified. So why would I think these things? It’s a confidence issue. Now when I talk to other veterans who say, ‘I can’t do it,’ I say, ‘Yes you can!’”

Goetz came to the Brown School to develop better systems to serve veterans. She has found veterans often get shuffled from one program to another. The problem, she said, is not a lack of resources but a lack of coordination.

“Someone will have a good idea, and they will run with it, but it’s not always informed by research or evidence,” Goetz said. “A better approach is to bring anyone in the community — private, public, nonprofit — who works with veterans together to improve their capacity by identifying issues, setting priorities and conducting research to guarantee good outcomes.”

The work is more important than ever. Some 250,000 service members return to civilian life every year, and the transition is often fraught.

“What I realized is that when you are in the military, things are clear-cut,” Goetz said. “You are told where to go and what to do, and the resources you need are right there. And if a service person, for instance, loses his or her home, you can move on base. You are not going to let an active service member be homeless. However, once that person leaves the military, that level of resources is gone. That’s part of why we are seeing so many problems. I want to find a better way to help.”