A Day In The Life Of A Veterans Affair Social Worker

My morning starts with a 20-mile commute across Mobile Bay to the VA CBOC (Veterans Administration Community Based Outpatient Clinic) in Mobile, Alabama. The sun is at my back and the water is smooth and glassy at this time of the morning. The peace of watching the brown pelicans diving for breakfast may be the calm before a daily storm of veterans, meetings and social work in general. On Wednesday, I have an intake scheduled for 8:30 a.m. followed by an individual at 10 a.m. At 11 a.m., our Behavioral Integration Program team meets to discuss new referrals, provide treatment planning for shared veterans and have some collegial meeting time. This process is new so we are in the learning stages of this VA mandate.

After a quick lunch, I have a PTSD TMS (Talent Management Service — fancy way to say distance learning tool) VANTS-line training on Motivational Interviewing. By now it’s 2 p.m. and my favorite part of Wednesday is getting started. The “Living with PTSD” therapy group is arriving across the hall. As they gather, several of the guys stop into my office to say hello. One client comes up to show me a picture on his cellphone of the new kitten he has; another to ask to set up a future individual appointment. During the next 90 minutes, a room of mostly Vietnam veterans will talk about the everyday struggles of living with the symptoms of PTSD — road rage, family dysfunction, isolation from friends, family or others, low self-esteem, lack of trust, poor sleep, etc. At the end of meeting, they walk out laughing — I find it therapeutically necessary to infuse laughter into their day. This meeting is the only time some of them leave their house and it’s important for them to feel some joy.

After writing what seems to be endless electronic chart notes and answering phone messages ranging from veterans to family members to community providers, it’s time to make my way back across Mobile Bay to home where my sweet kitty, Stormee, is waiting to give me some needed snuggles. The sun is setting in my rearview mirror as I watch the brown pelicans making their last dives of the day for the supper that will keep them full and warm overnight in their nests.

Driving across the water often gives me time to reflect on my day, but today I reflect on why I do what I do. I do it because I love it and cannot imagine not being a social worker. I started in psychology and earned a Bachelor of Science at Auburn University but quickly became disenchanted with the field when I discovered the limited job opportunities unless I pursued a Ph.D. My first job out of college was as a houseparent in a residential program for emotionally disturbed children. It was there that I met several social workers in various capacities — community, forensic, mental health, child and family — and fell for the profession. After a couple of years, I went back to school to earn my Master of Social Work.

My first year internship was at an alternative high school setting and I hated it. I felt bored and useless — mostly thanks to lack-luster field instruction. In a do-over, I would have insisted on a change citing that the money paying for my education made me a consumer that deserved better. My second internship was the beginning of my mental health concentration and the most amazing adventure of my life to that point. I was one of the few students at the University of Alabama chosen for the Washington, D.C., placement at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital — the premier psychiatric and mental health training field of the time in the U.S. I lived in housing on the grounds with interns in occupational therapy, physical therapy, psychology/psychodrama, nursing, psychiatry, chaplaincy and social work — an invaluable learning community of fellow students.

After graduation, I returned to residential treatment as a supervisor/therapist but Washington, D.C., was in my blood so I quickly returned to live there and look for work. I took a job in a large community hospital as the evening social worker in their ER. I loved the crisis intervention in the ER and the trauma unit. I took on Master of Social Work students from several local universities who, in turn, got an incredible experience covering the entire hospital. I spent a total of 14 years there and worked in areas including transplant, oncology, psychiatry, neonatal and medical outpatient. One degree; unlimited possibility.

For the last 10 years I have worked for the VA. It’s a challenge on several levels but the client population cannot be beat. Every social worker should be well educated, open to learning new methods and flexible in a changing environment. The VA provides that daily and I wouldn’t change a thing — not even the drive!

Terry Rozum is a social worker in Mobile, Alabama. She is a native Alabamian having grown up in Fairhope. Terry is passionate about cats, writing and social work — pretty much in that order. She writes for and is on the editorial staff for the “Inspire!” newsletter for the Gulf Coast VA and her fiction has been published in several local anthologies.