As a social worker for returning combat Veterans at the San Diego VA Medical Center, Laura Owen has firsthand experience in a traumatic environment. As a first responder and social worker following the Sept. 11 attacks, Owen witnessed the loss, despair, and recovery of rescue workers at ground zero. Now, she’s using her experience to shape the way she serves Veterans.
“From the start, it was an emotionally intense and surreal experience,” said Owen, who was an Air Force social worker deployed from San Antonio, Texas to counsel first responders following the attacks. “Parts of the towers were still up, there were still flames coming out and people were being pulled from the buildings. Everyone from emergency workers to firefighters wanted someone to talk to following the attacks.”
Amidst the chaos of her busy work tempo, Owen noticed how important her role was. While chaplains, psychologists, and social workers struggled to meet the endless demands for counseling, surgeons stood idle, waiting for patients.
“This was the first time in my life that the relevancy of a counselor was far greater than a doctor in an experience where you would assume the opposite,” she said.
After a week in New York, Owen returned to Texas with life lessons that have carried her to this day. The most important lesson she says is that ‘in large scale events such as these, the best a person can do is their part really well.’
“I understand that this country has been in combat for ten years and that has played a tremendous impact on the VA,” said Owen. “As a result, we’re working really hard to take care of our Veterans. Despite everything, I can still show up to work and make sure my patients get the services they need. If that is the best I can do to help, then I’m happy.”