A National Concern
With more than 19.3 million veterans in America, there is a great need for military social workers. The last figures from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) shows that some 70 million families in the United States are eligible for VA benefits. This includes veterans themselves, spouses, family members and any other dependents for which the veteran may be responsible.
Recognizing the Unique Challenges Veterans Face
While no two veterans are alike, there are several common challenges that veterans may face, including the following:
Unique Health Concerns
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014 American Community Survey, 3.8 million veterans live with a service-connected disability. For reference, service-connected disabilities are those caused, or exacerbated by, time in the military. Common health concerns include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, anxiety and depression among others.
Once discharged, veterans may have limited job prospects because of their lack of a college degree and/or their military skills may not match well with private sector employment opportunities. Military social workers can help veterans access job training programs, navigate postsecondary education options, develop new skills and use the skills they already possess to secure steady employment
Homelessness and Disability
Due to limited postsecondary education and lack of access to affordable health care, 8.6 percent of U.S. homeless are veterans, with over half of that 8.6 percent suffering a mental or physical disability.
A Growing Need
The nature of today’s military conflicts is becoming more complex and demanding, with new technologies, growing terrorist groups and enemy combatant organizations that blur the lines of traditional warfare. As a result, the number of returning veterans requiring social, emotional and physical support is projected to continue to increase.
Types of Services Veterans Can Access
Perhaps the central key to helping as many veterans as possible is educating them about the potential services available. From health care to vocational counseling, there are a variety of service options readily open to veterans once they return home.
Health care is one of the largest concerns for veterans. These services, including social services, are available through the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs through its network of 1,233 health care facilities, 168 Veteran Affairs Medical Centers and 1,053 outpatient locations.
Other services include career, vocational and educational counseling that can help veterans get on the fast track to building job skills, can assist with financial/life insurance planning, independent living services for those with disabilities and help veterans make transitions into student life.
Veteran and Military Social Workers
Veteran and military social workers have one of the most rewarding jobs, helping those who served our country experience a successful, happier and healthier post-service life. Because of the high demand for aid and assistance, there are several different kinds of social workers, each with a specific role to play in maintaining and improving the well-being of our military men and women.
Embedded and active duty social workers are there for soldiers on the job, providing them with emotional support and counseling when needed. Civilian military social workers provide support and services for the families of service men and women once they return home from deployment. Veteran social workers are there to provide aid specifically to veterans, helping them find housing, secure employment and overcome a variety of challenges.
Who Employs Veteran Social Workers?
There are a variety of different organizations that require the assistance of veteran social workers. Some of the largest employers include the Navy’s Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Services Program, the Army Community Services, the Marine Corps Community Services, Fleet and Family Support Centers and Homeless Assistance Programs.
What Do Veteran Social Workers Do?
First and foremost, a veteran social worker is an advocate. They work on behalf of service men and women, ensuring veterans receive the help they need and deserve. They are also partners in mental health, assisting with psychosocial and risk assessments, crisis navigation (suicide prevention, substance abuse, domestic violence, etc.), mindfulness-based stress reduction, cognitive behavior therapy and music/art therapy.
Social workers who work with veterans have a difficult job. They must be able to identify issues a veteran may not want to necessarily share, or uncover issues that may be lingering just below the surface. Social workers build their treatment strategies not just by focusing on a clinical diagnosis, but by getting to know their patients as a people and gaining their trust. They can address concerns about confidentiality, which may prevent veterans from opening up. Additionally, military social workers need to be able to thrive in a fast-paced work environment, and they must be organized in a manner that enables them to concentrate on multiple cases.
The National Association of Social Workers, first lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Biden collaborated to create “Joining Forces” — a continuing education program that serves to educate social workers about military experiences. This education better prepares social work professionals to identify and address the special issues of veterans; issues that may be seldom seen in the general population.
While the job titles and classifications of military social workers may differ from service branch to branch, generally there are three different types of professionals who serve veterans: social worker, advanced social worker (with a master’s degree in social work) and clinical social worker.
A Fulfilling Role
Veteran social workers may have a long road ahead, but that road is one that is full of reward. As time goes on, more and more veterans and their families will be in need of support. When they are, veteran social workers will be there to provide their expertise.