With a knee injury during deployment ending her dreams of a long career in law enforcement and the military, Master of Social Work student RanDee McLain decided to give back to her fellow veterans by pursuing a career in social work.
To that end, McLain has been involved in more than 21 military-related events and organizations in just two years at the USC School of Social Work. In recognition of her tireless work, McLain has been honored as the 2013-2014 Veteran of the Year by the San Diego Veterans Museum and Memorial Center.
The first post-9/11 veteran to win the award, McLain moved back to her native San Diego after serving eight and a half years in the U.S. Navy to be close to the largest post-9/11 veteran population while earning her degree at the school’s San Diego Academic Center.
“I was shocked and overwhelmed at first,” said McLain, who is a second-year Community Organization, Planning and Administration concentration student with a sub-concentration in military social work. “It is an amazing honor to be able to represent my fellow veterans in this capacity. I knew I had done a lot for my veteran community, but I never expected this.”
McLain began volunteering with veterans organizations while she was getting her bachelor’s degree at San Diego State University. She continued her service once she got to USC, coordinating fundraisers and events, such as sponsoring a tent at a San Diego Veterans Administration Stand Down event, which provides free health care and social services to homeless veterans. McLain is also highly involved in mentoring as a USC veteran mentor and with the San Diego veterans treatment court, which offers alternatives to punishment that focus on recovery and rehabilitation and where she mentored the first female veteran in the program.
While McLain was selected for the honor out of 27 mostly male nominees, she is quick to play down any special meaning to win the award as a female veteran.
“I worked really hard while I was in the service to be considered equal and worked just as hard, if not harder, than my male counterparts,” she said. “Though I am proud to be one of the few women to have ever received this award in San Diego, I try not to see myself as a ‘female veteran’ but just a veteran.”
McLain’s passion for the well-being of veterans caught the eye of San Diego Academic Center Director Michael Rank, who taught McLain in a Clinical Practice with Servicemembers and Veterans course. He quickly noted how effective she was at balancing her graduate studies with heavy involvement in the San Diego veteran community.
“RanDee has more personal knowledge of the veteran community in San Diego than do some organizations and agencies serving veterans in San Diego County,” Rank said. “She is well-known in the San Diego community, especially amongst veterans as well as active duty service members. Her energy and commitment on behalf of the veteran community are exemplary.”
Rank’s positive interactions with McLain made it easy for him to nominate her for Veteran of the Year, as her level of accomplishments in the last year alone are much higher than he had seen before.
“One of our military social work students winning this award says that we are fulfilling our mission and commitment to build up leaders in the community,” he said. “Our students trust us to provide for them the education and skills they need to succeed, and the population of service members, veterans and their families depend upon our graduates’ leadership and service to help them through the difficulties of reintegration and transition. RanDee demonstrates the values, knowledge and skills we emphasize in our military social work program.”
Due to graduate in May, McLain is already planning the next steps of her career. She is currently completing an internship at Integra Center, a developing nonprofit organization that will be the first of its kind, a one-stop facility (“One Place”) that will encompass both medical treatment and social services for critically injured military service members suffering from amputations and/or traumatic brain injury. She is also working closely with the veterans treatment court and would like to eventually help spread this type of court to other cities and states.
“When I was forced to find something else I was good at and had a passion for after my service, I quickly realized that was giving back to my fellow veterans,” McLain said. “I am proud to be able to show people that there is life—successful and fulfilling life—after the military.”