Each day USF College of Public Health alumnus Roger Casey walked to get to his car in the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital parking lot, he would glance across the street at the COPH and wonder why he wasn’t taking classes there.
“Working at a national level with disadvantaged populations, frequently with mental health and substance use disorder diagnoses, and certainly socioeconomic issues, I realized how valuable a public health education could be,” Casey said. “These vets, although they had the VA healthcare system, there were not systems for housing and ensuring environments of care that were safe.”
Casey, a native of Plainfield, New Jersey, started his now 28-year career with the Veteran’s Administration in Tampa as a licensed clinical social worker. He earned his master of social work degree from USF in 1988.
His early VA career led him to Washington, D.C. to serve as director of the Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program, a national program responsible for providing grants to non-profits to develop transitional housing for homeless veterans.
Commuting between Tampa, where his wife and three-year-old son lived, and D.C. proved to be a challenge, according to Casey.
But, his passion for providing services to those who were less fortunate—specifically the homeless veteran—kept him motivated.
With the emergence of telecommuting and virtual communication, Casey said he was eventually able to move back to Tampa and continue to direct the national program.
“I really value education. If you ever feel like you’re stuck, take a class,” Casey said.
And he did just that when he returned to Tampa.
“I thought a public health doctoral program would provide me with the education and background to better understand the programs and the populations I was working with,” he said. “The broad perspective, studying societal issues and problems in a broad approach, a macro approach; it was very relevant with working in homeless populations and those veterans that served.”
In 2007, he graduated with his PhD from the Department of Community and Family Health (CFH), with a focus in public mental health.
“It’s a great program, [I] learned a lot. The professors were great,” Casey said. “I’m not just saying that, they really were. They really care about students and I felt supported and felt like they supported your efforts and recognized your skills.”
Casey’s dissertation examined the effectiveness of transitional housing programs as it related to different psychiatric diagnoses.
“They became mentors and personal advisors, good co-chairs would do that,” Casey said.
Casey said his degree in public health prepared him to embark on his proudest professional achievement to date.
In 2009, he and colleagues created the National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, a center that serves as a research, program implementation, education, and policy recommendation source to more than 4,000 staff around the country who implement homeless programs.
“The intent of the center was to, essentially, work to promote recovery-oriented care for veterans who are homeless or at risk for homelessness by developing and disseminating evidence-based policies, programs and best practices,” he said. “We conduct research on populations, make policy recommendations, develop new programs designs around the country and pilot them, provide education for all the staff; in an essence, we’re a resource for all those not only working in the field, but the managers and leadership running homeless programs.”
The center currently collaborates with the USF College of Behavioral and Community Sciences (CBCS), under the guidance of Dr. Colleen Clark in the CBCS Department of Mental Health Law and Policy.
It is also affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania and University of Massachusetts.
“It’s important to know that through my education in public health, my experience working in these programs for so long, and now my opportunity to work in the center that pulls everything together and becomes a resource, is a great fit and if I didn’t have that PhD in public health, I don’t know that I’d have the abilities to do that,” Casey said.
While his dream of becoming a professional musician may be out of reach, something he aspired to do for about 10 years while playing guitar in rock and jazz bands in Colorado before his VA career, Casey said he now feels like this is where he really belongs, and his hopes for the future definitely include sharing his experiences with younger aspiring students.
“I’d like to serve as mentor and share my experiences with younger folks coming up,” Casey said.
In addition to his work at the center, Casey’s experience includes working with the U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services. In this capacity, he provided guidance and oversight for the VA component of the Collaborative Initiative to End Chronic Homelessness and as principle investigator for several research studies including the VA Homeless After-Care Study.
He also oversaw and coordinated an emergency management group of clinicians, social workers and psychologists, who were deployed to regions affected by Hurricane’s Rita and Katrina, to assistant veterans and their families affected during the storms.
“I’d like to share the importance of working with veterans who served our country and the importance of starting where the client is at; meeting those immediate needs of housing, as well as serving as a mentor and helping the sustainability of programs for homeless veterans,” he said.
The National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans currently accepts one graduate student internship each semester, allowing students to gain experience working in program monitoring, evaluation, program development, and education development on the federal level. Interested students should contact Casey Roger directly via email: email@example.com.
Fast Five for COPH Alumni:
What did you dream of becoming when you were young?
Where would we find you on the weekend?
On the lake.
What superpower would you like to have?
Super speed, like Quicksilver from X-Men.
What’s your all-time favorite movie?
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Why does the USF COPH Rock?
Because it offers opportunities for those folks who want to have a meaningful career that is more than just money and a job.
Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health.