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. Families of veterans may struggle with issues such as domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse or suicide.
Military social workers work with members of the armed forces and their families to help them address and manage the unique challenges they face by providing counseling and support. 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.
Regardless of specialization, it is estimated that all social workers will see clients from a military background at some point in their career.
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What is Military Social Work?
Military social work is a specialized field of practice that provides support and interventions to military personnel, retirees, their spouses and their dependents through private practice, active service, or work with veterans’ services. Individuals with a master’s in social work are eligible for positions as commissioned officers in the military or military reserve.
Military social workers receive specialized training that allows them to serve military clients. It’s also important for military social workers to know the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the history of military social work. Military social workers must understand the individual’s role within the military, veteran cultures and take the complex responsibilities of military personnel into account when making assessments. Members of the Department of Homeland Security and the commissioned corps of the Public Health Service are also served by military social workers.
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. In some cases, military social workers may find resources for military members, such as housing assistance. 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.
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 accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). The concentration also provides a range of field placement options that allow students to gain experience working 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, two to three years of professional military social work experience, and a commitment to continuing education.
Types of Social Work in the Armed Forces
There is a wide range of positions available for military social workers, including roles in the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, and VA. These positions all require a minimum of a master’s degree, and often also require experience in clinical social work. In some cases, it is also a requirement to commit to serve active duty for a number of years.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is, in fact, the largest employer of master’s level social workers in the United States. Social workers make an impact on every part of the system, offering advocacy, crisis intervention, mental health therapy, rehabilitation services and much more. They create and implement programs for those returning from active duty and ensure critical services are available for those in need.
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 to servicemen. Each branch of the military has service centers that are staffed with social workers and other human services professionals and volunteers.
Military social workers can work in an array of settings. While many are found on military bases, some civilian military social workers help military service members and veterans through private practice. Others are employed by veterans’ service organizations or government-funded military agencies.
Salary and Career Outlook for Military Social Workers
While there aren’t any specific projections for growth in military social work, social work is a growing field of work. The overall employment of social workers is projected to increase 11 percent from 2018 to 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). According to government website, USAJOBS as of January 2020, military social workers can expect to earn an annual salary of between $50,000 and $75,000.
Clinical social workers on active duty receive multiple military benefits, such as specialized training, 30 days paid vacation per year, flights and more. Military social workers are also available for retirement benefits from the military as part of their service to the Armed Forces.