If you are considering a career in social work, there are good reasons to consider working for the Department of Veterans Affairs, whether as a new hire as a graduate of your program and certification, via a practicum while you are still training to become a social worker, or as a fully certified professional looking for new opportunities.
Why Consider The VA For A Social Work Career?
The Department of Veterans Affairs official site states that it is among the largest, if not THE largest employer of Masters’ degree-level social work professionals in the United States. The VA has partnerships with a large number of colleges and universities that have social work degree programs and there are opportunities for field placement at VA sites across the nation.
The opportunities for doing social work at a VA facility will vary depending on location but the Department of Veterans Affairs official site advises students to contact their university’s Field Placement Coordinator to learn if there are openings at the VA in your location.
Those interested in clinical traineeship or a clinical graduate program should know that the VA has partnerships with more than 200 graduate schools of social work. There are roughly 1500 interns (at the Masters level) approved each year.
Student Field Placements May Include VA Stipends
Those who are still training in Social Work programs may, as mentioned above, have the opportunity to train and work at VA facilities. In addition to the experience there may also be cash stipends available. To learn what is offered near you, contact your school’s Field Placement Coordinator to see what’s possible and the application paperwork required.
Once you have completed field work as part of your education process, you may also be eligible for VA employment in a post-internship context. You’ll want to discuss such opportunities with that facility’s Chief of Social Work or an equivalent.
What Is Required To Work At The VA As A Social Worker New Hire
Public Law 106-419 requires all social workers who are hired today to be licensed and hold a Masters degree “to independently practice social work.”
The VA official site reminds, “VA social workers have a master’s degree in social work (MSW or MSSW). Some are also licensed master social workers (LMSW) or licensed clinical social workers (LCSW).” For those who are still interning or doing a practicum, permanent VA social workers “are committed to providing field instruction to undergraduate and graduate level social work interns.” The VA is an important resource during your social work education AND post-graduation.
Reasons To Consider The VA For Your Social Work Career: Diversity of Opportunity
Social workers hired at the VA level are tasked to help the VA offer a range of services including, but not limited to a wide range of opportunities to gain experience:
- Discharge planning
- Outreach to homeless veterans
- Case management
- Financial assistance referral
- Housing and community living options
- Assessment of substance abuse issues
- Treatment of substance abuse issues
Who does VA social work benefit?
- Veterans with substance abuse issues
- Veterans with emotional problems
- Veterans and their families coping with illness or disability
- Veterans and family members who need care directives and “durable” powers of attorney for health care or finances
- Veterans and their families coping with terminal illness
- Family members dealing with care-based legal issues
- Case Management assistance
Benefits For Those Hired As Social Workers At The VA
The kinds of benefits we’re discussing here are advantages that come when employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. A good example of these benefits? Career mobility. Working at the VA usually means the ability to put in time at one facility by also be able to apply for other jobs within the VA system–and that system is huge.
There are so many VA facilities across the United States that you may be able to find social work opportunities in many other areas within the VA network.
How big is that network? The VA footprint in America includes 1,255 health care facilities–that number includes around 170 VA medical centers and well over one thousand outpatient centers.
VA Salary And Other Considerations
VA social workers hired as full-time, permanent hires (as opposed to doing an internship or practicum) are assigned a General Schedule pay grade, also known as a GS rating. You can find current pay grades for social workers by searching on the government’s official federal job clearinghouse, USAJobs.gov. GS grades run from GS1 to GS15, and each grade contains a number of “pay steps.”
Generally speaking, you may find that an entry-level position in social work at the GS level (a graduate of a Masters program who has worked in the field for less than a year) may be assigned a GS9 rating. The pay range varies depending on the job, but multiple sources indicate that pay ranges at the GS9 level go from just under $50k per year to just under $60k per year.
But that’s not all–depending on where you accept a VA job with a GS rating, you may be entitled to locality pay that could increase your earnings if you work in a high-cost area.
The benefits of having a GS job are a fairly strong incentive to consider working at the VA–there are health insurance options, retirement savings plans, dental coverage, paid time off at the federal level, etc.
Some social workers report that their past, pre-licensure experience in other sectors might not provide them with a competitive edge in their new careers. But VA experience at the GS level gives you a competitive salary range you can use as a bargaining tool for another job down the line; having a GS rating also makes you more competitive.
Why? Because the requirements for such positions are strict and the work done has federal accountability–all important factors if you want to consider private sector social work later down the line. The respect a federal social worker job brings can help you later in your career.
While working at the Department of Veterans Affairs is not the same as joining the United States military, this type of work is a form of national service–VA social workers work with veterans, helping them to get care, understand their benefits, make arrangements for future care or other arrangements, and learn how to transition from the military lifestyle to a civilian one.
Of course, this list is not exhaustive, but it does illustrate how a VA social work job or career benefits VA clients and their families.
Not only that, but the potential to work side-by-side with vets at the VA level is also there–some employees writing about their experiences in VA social work report working with veterans who make up as much as 50% of the staff at a given location. You won’t just work to help vets, you will also work alongside them.
You can get more information on VA social work careers at the VA official site.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News