However, since 9/11, reserve soldiers have been heavily called into military operations in lieu of a nationwide military draft. More than two million soldiers have served one or more deployments in the Middle East, and over a million of these soldiers have become eligible for post-combat VA services. A veteran in need of services lives in nearly every American community.
Social workers have a long history of working with veterans and their families. Starting in 1918, social workers began assisting World War I soldiers that returned from the front with self-described "shell shock." To care for the needs of American veterans as they transition back into civilian life, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) has designated Military Social Work as an Advanced Social Work Practice based on EPAS guidelines. Social workers who want to work with veterans can click here to learn more about the best MSW programs. Professionals who want to transition from other careers into social work can earn the MSW degree as a springboard for working with returning soldiers.
How Do Social Workers Help Veterans?
Although each veteran has a unique set of needs, social workers serving veterans and their families typically offer these five types of services:
1.Mental and behavioral health. Social workers with the MSW who also qualify as LCSWs can offer individual psychotherapy to veterans and their family members. They can also advocate for veterans who need services related to PTSD, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse and readjustment problems. In addition to helping individual veterans, military social workers can develop community programs for veterans, their partners or their children.
2.Social services. Many veterans face physical disabilities when they return home from combat, and these disabilities may require them to make significant career changes. They may need assistance with finding employment and developing new job skills. In some cases, military social workers help veterans to obtain food stamps, child care subsidies and energy assistance. They can also help veterans take advantage of VA programs.
3.Housing. Homelessness is a major problem among America's veterans. According to estimates from the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, over 57,000 American veterans are homeless on a given night, and 12 percent of the total homeless population consists of veterans. Social workers can connect veterans with housing while helping vets to address the factors that exacerbate homelessness: shortages of affordable housing, lack of income, mental health and substance abuse problems and limited family support.
4.Health care. Many veterans are ineligible for VA health care. According to “The InternationalJournalofHealthServices,”asmany as 1.7 million veterans have no health insurance. Social workers can help veterans to obtain affordable health care to treat both illness and combat injuries.
5.Care coordination. Care coordinators advocate for veterans within the health care system. They coordinate between multiple providers and ensure that veterans can voice their preferences related to health care. Military social workers can arrange for home health care, help with insurance issues, complete paperwork and help veterans and their families navigate the health care system.
Careers in Military Social Work
Social workers with bachelor's degrees can connect veterans to resources and serve as case managers, but they need graduate degrees to provide specialized services, like psychotherapy. Because graduate courses offer more chances for specialization, social workers can tailor their MSW research to include a focus on veterans' affairs. Many military social workers find work at the VA, in the Armed Forces or with the Department of Defense, but they may also work in private practice or with state and local agencies.
The National Association for Social Work (NASW) is a member of Joining Forces, which is a program developed by Dr. Jill Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama. Joining Forces works to mobilize all segments of society to deliver assistance to veterans that have sacrificed so much for their countries. NASW also offers advanced social worker (ASW) and clinical social worker (CSW) certification for MSWs that work with military veterans and their families.
Banner image by Army Medicine from Flickr Creative Commons