It’s an undeniable fact: military members, veterans, and their families face unique needs and situations that often require working with a social worker. As such, in this article, we’ll address the roles and responsibilities that military social workers fulfill in the veteran and military communities.
Specifically, we’ll discuss the following:
- What is a Military Social Worker?
- What do Military Social Workers Do?
- How to Become a Military Social Worker
- Social Work Available in the US Military
- Civilian Jobs Available for Military Social Workers
- Final Thoughts
What is a Military Social Worker?
As stated in the introduction, military members, veterans, and their families face unique situations, problems, and life stressors that often require the support of social workers. For instance, the military community faces high levels of the below emotional and psychological disorders:
- Post-traumatic stress
Furthermore, veterans and their families – especially ones dealing with prior combat deployments – often face the related challenges of substance abuse, domestic violence, child abuse, and suicide.
Military social workers serve as the “front line troops” tasked with addressing the above issues. They work with military members, veterans, and their families to help them deal with these unique challenges by providing support and counseling.
Military social workers need to not only excel at the social work profession, they also need to intimately understand the challenges and complexity inherent to providing support within the broader military community.
What do Military Social Workers Do?
Within the context of the above military-related issues, military social workers practice a specialized field of social work focused on support and intervention to:
- Active-duty military
- Military retirees and veterans
- Military spouses and dependents
This support broadly includes private practice, active military service, or direct work with veterans’ service organizations. Furthermore, individuals who receive a master’s in social work become eligible for commissioned officer positions in the active military and reserve.
To provide this specialized level of care, military social workers undergo training tailored to serving military clients. In addition to technical and clinical skills, this training also includes a thorough overview of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), the federal law underpinning the military justice system, as this legal system imposes certain restrictions and responsibilities unique to social work in a military context.
Military social workers also need to have a holistic understanding of military culture. This means accounting for A) the individual roles and responsibilities of military members, B) veteran culture, and C) the complex requirements imposed on service members when making professional assessments. In other words, military social workers not only need to make appropriate clinical assessments – they need to make them while accounting for the additional layer of military culture, writ large.
Specific job duties fulfilled by military social workers include:
- Direct services (e.g. counseling, crisis intervention, and debriefing)
- Disease prevention support
- Health promotion programs
- Research on social issues affecting the military community
- Assistance with training medical personnel
- Assistance with helping military members access resources (e.g. housing, healthcare, etc.)
How to Become a Military Social Worker
If you’re interested in becoming a military social worker, you should begin by completing a master’s degree in social work, with a concentration in military social work, specifically. Due to the tremendous need for military social workers, numerous degree programs include this sort of concentration. And, this concentration offers graduates a wide range of job placement opportunities and student experience working directly with the military community.
NOTE: In researching social work programs with military concentrations, you should confirm that the program is actually accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) in order to avoid falling victim to a predatory school.
In terms of formal credentialing, after graduating from one of the above master’s programs and completing two to three years of real-world professional military social work, individuals become eligible for the following:
- Military Service Member, Veterans, and their Families – Clinical Social Worker (MVF-CSW)
- Military Service Member, Veterans, and their Families – Advanced Social Worker (MVF-ASW)
Social Work Available in the US Military
Armed with the above credentials, military social workers can select from numerous positions within the US Military. Each branch of the military and the Department of Veterans Affairs has positions available, though some require a commitment to actually serve on active duty for a period of time.
Of note, the Department of Veterans Affairs employs more master’s level social workers than any other institution in the United States, which directly translates to outstanding job prospects for military social workers.
Civilian Jobs Available for Military Social Workers
Additionally, plenty of jobs exist for people who’d like to become military social workers but do not want to serve in the Armed Forces. Each branch of the military also employs civilian social workers. These professionals are able to directly support military members and their families while remaining civilians. For people who like the idea of supporting the military – but who prefer the lifestyle flexibility of the civilian world – these jobs represent a great compromise.
Military social workers can find civilian jobs in the following environments:
- Working on military bases in a civilian capacity
- Working in a private practice that directly supports military clients
- Working directly for a veterans’ service organization
Serving the military doesn’t need to mean fighting on the frontlines. Military social workers – either in uniform or as civilians – provide critical support to military members, veterans, and their families. In doing so, these professionals help A) maintain the readiness of our nation’s Armed Forces, and B) care for America’s veterans and their families.
Furthermore, from a practical job perspective, social work as a whole represents a growing professional field, with Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting 11% growth in positions over the next decade. And, according to USAJOBS, military social workers can expect to earn annual salaries between $50,000 and $75,000, making military social work a great option for people looking to both support our nation’s Armed Forces and earn a good living.
Maurice “Chipp” Naylon spent nine years as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps. He is currently a licensed CPA specializing in real estate development and accounting.
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