Thompson Moves Vets Beyond Traditional Treatments
By Jenny Skinner-Chiburis
Armed with 25 years of experience and an arsenal of field experience, Substance Use Disorders Program Coordinator Mary Ann Thompson spends countless hours providing education, therapy and support to the 45 veterans currently participating in programs at the Veterans Administration Clinic in Lincoln, Nebraska. And she makes a difference every single minute.
“I get to hear their stories, see their pain and get the chance to give them whatever I can to help them face their past, their present and future,” she said. “For some, I’m the first civilian they get to share their war-time experiences with and I get to show them my compassion, unconditional love and acceptance.” This unconditional love and acceptance takes some veterans by surprise—they find it shocking when Thompson is unfazed by the sometimes haunting tales of their past experiences. “I know what it takes to stay sober and I know they will only get sober if they face themselves honestly,” she said. “I get to help them face themselves and the healing that comes.”
Thompson, a 2012 graduate of Bellevue University’s Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Science program, oversees the experienced Lincoln-based staff that is committed to serving our nation’s veterans as they address their addictions and strive to make positive changes in their lives. She has assisted in changing the way addiction is approached by developing and implementing a structured Intensive program at the Lincoln VA. Although the program provides education and therapy for the veterans, it also offers so much more. Thompson and her team are invested in treating the whole person--mind, body and spirit--not just the disease. The Lincoln VA has gained a partnership with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Innovations Program to offer veterans in treatment access to facilities to further develop and hone their skills in the arts. The team’s commitment to service doesn’t end upon the completion of treatment. Thompson herself developed a mentorship program called Moving Beyond Treatment, an initiative that invites program alumni to visit groups twice weekly to offer support and encouragement to those currently in treatment.
“I love working with veterans, I am honored for the chance to give back to them,” Thompson said. “I know what it takes to be stay sober. I know how great life can be sober. I know no one has to die from this disease and I want to do all I can to help them find the healing they deserve and help restore the pride they once felt."
Thompson began her career as an Addiction Therapist with the Omaha Veterans Administration in Nebraska. In 2005, she applied and accepted the position in Lincoln, despite knowing the current program was in danger of being discontinued. Thompson knew that she had the skills, knowledge and drive that was needed to turn the program around—and she has.
Although there have been many improvements to this once struggling program, Thompson still faces many challenges when it comes to treating addicted veterans. As with most federal programs, funding is tight, and she finds it difficult not having all the tools necessary to provide the care that is needed. If the funds were available, Thompson wishes she could give the program a recovery house where the veterans’ stays could be extended to ensure a safe and sober reintegration back into society. Releasing an addict back into society before they are ready or have the proper tools to keep them safe and sober can be detrimental to their continued sobriety and recovery.
Thompson began her career with an associate’s degree, but always felt the push to obtain higher education. An Omaha native, she was no stranger to the abundance of local colleges and universities. Having attended some other institutions early on her academic career, Thompson was pleased with choosing Bellevue University to complete her degree.
Bellevue really cared for me as a student, Thompson said of her experience. “It’s by far the best university ever.” Thompson stated that the experience of earning the Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Science has proven that even at the age of “50-something” a person can still earn straight A’s and be on the Dean’s List! Thompson’s career has offered many experiences that have deepened her understanding of life and all that one can carry below the surface.
Thompson hopes that one day Bellevue University will consider adding to the Behavioral Sciences curriculum—to include courses in the addiction field, focusing particularly in the development of treatment plans. Thompson feels this skill is one that therapists struggle with the most during their careers. “I’d be glad to teach the class because I think I’m pretty dog-gone good at it,” Thompson offered.
Addiction and recovery is not always an easy road, but with the experience, strength and hope provided by Thompson it is a battle that is being won—one veteran at a time.