Military service members, veterans and their families have special needs that may necessitate working with a social worker. For example, military personnel may be dealing with psychological and emotional disorders, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress, especially if they have been fighting on the front lines of war. Families of veterans may be struggling with domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse or suicide. Military social workers must be prepared for the complexity that comes with treating both active-duty and civilian clients who are part of military culture.
What is Military Social Work?
Military social work is a specialized field of practice that provides necessary support and interventions to military personnel, retirees, their spouses and their dependents. Military social workers receive specialized training that allows them to serve the needs of military clients. They must understand the individual’s role within military and veteran cultures and take the complex responsibilities of military personnel into account when making assessments. It’s also important to know the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the history of military social work, as well as what is currently happening in the social work field.
Clinical social workers who work in a military setting must be prepared to address the mental, physical and emotional needs of military personnel. Clinical social workers must also be prepared to treat the needs of veterans from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and conflicts in the Persian Gulf and Somalia. Members of the Department of Homeland Security and the commissioned corps of the Public Health Service are also served by military social workers.
Individuals with a master's in social work are eligible for positions as commissioned officers in the military or military reserve. Job duties include providing direct services, such as counseling, crisis intervention and debriefing after critical events. Military social workers also plan and implement disease prevention and health promotion programs for service members, conduct research on social issues and assist in the training of medical personnel. Training for military social work includes access to the most current treatment approaches, the opportunity to consult with experts in the field and encouragement for professional growth through continuing education.
Military Social Work Jobs
The U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines use the services of both military and civilian social workers to provide social services and crisis intervention support. Some civilian military social workers help military service members and veterans through private practice, while others are employed by veterans’ service organizations or other military-related agencies.
Social workers who work on base, in the field and in military hospitals help wounded personnel adjust to injury and reintegrate into military or civilian life. They also help facilitate their clients' ability to cope with a wide range of psychological and social issues. In addition to working with service members, military social workers provide general support for the family of active-duty service members.
Military bases for each branch of the military have Service Centers that are staffed with social workers and other types of human services professionals and volunteers. Services that are typically available for family members include individual and family counseling, financial management assistance, relocation support and services for family members with special needs.
In the U.S. , officers with the Social Work job title hold positions within the Department of Social Work, the Family Advocacy Program, the Community Mental Health Service, and the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Program. Similar positions can be found in other military branches.
Become a Military Social Worker
Earning a master’s degree in social work with a military social work concentration is the best way to prepare for a career working with service members and veterans. This specialization is available at several universities, including our partner the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, which offers coursework in military culture and military clinical practice as part of its MSW degree. The concentration also provides a range of field placement options that allow students to work directly with military populations.
Social workers who are trained to work in an advanced practice area such as military social work are eligible to earn an Advanced Practice Specialty Credential from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Both the MVF-CSW (Military Service Member, Veterans and their Families – Clinical Social Worker) and the MVF-ASW (Military Service Member, Veterans and their Families – Advanced Social Worker) require a master’s degree in social work and three years of professional military social work experience.