#IAmHHS: Putting Policy to Work on the Ground
I haven’t always been in policy—or in crisis counseling. And I haven’t always worked for the government.
But after working in sales and management for a weight loss company, my life took a dramatic turn. In 1995, I was diagnosed with cervical/uterine cancer. The difficulty of navigating the U.S. healthcare system on my own inspired me to make a change, and I went to the University of Michigan to get my master’s in social work intending to work in women’s oncology. However, while getting my master’s, I found my true calling in trauma work, joining ride-alongs and fly-alongs with first responders, and working in the ER. I have seen many people through the worst moments of their lives.
On 9-11, I was driving to the D.C. area to visit my parents when the Red Cross contacted me to help survivors at the Pentagon. I volunteered as a disaster mental health responder. I provided support on site to responders recovering the dead and also to survivors of the attack who had returned to work in the building. A month later, the Red Cross sent me to ground zero in New York. At the respite center there, I helped responders to cope and to carry on.
I developed disaster mental health training programs and plans for the state of Maryland and, later, for the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Two weeks into my job at SAMHSA, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, and off I went, this time working on federal crisis counseling grant programs for survivors on the Gulf Coast and also for those displaced all across the nation.
I have since joined ASPR’s Division for At-Risk Individuals, Behavioral Health and Community Resilience. We coordinate federal and local behavioral health partners in disaster response. This means that when public health emergencies and disasters happen, we find where the needs are and quickly mobilize resources to meet them.
At ASPR, it’s about “giving it away.” Whatever knowledge or tools you have that can help, you get it out there. When I was thinking about doing policy work, a mentor said: “If you can do both policy and clinical work, you should do it.” And I agreed. If you are called to do something, do it.
ASPR’s programs help save lives. We translate policy into practice. Disasters are not going away. Weather events, manmade events – they will continue to show up on our doorsteps. We’re ready when they do. This work is about humanity, compassion and meaning. Sometimes the 30,000-foot work, the policy work, may not feel as personal and critical as being on the ground, but it makes all that other work possible.
I’m Rachel Kaul. I’m a social worker and a change agent. And I Am HHS.
Rachel is one of more than 79,000 people who make HHS run every day. You can share her story and see others on Twitter and Facebook using #IAmHHS.
Rachel Kaul is a social worker. She is a change agent. She works for @PHEGov and helps save lives. https://go.usa.gov/xNbY2 #IAmHHS.
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