Social work services for veterans have reached a point of importance that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is among the largest employers of social workers in the country. The VA social work division celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2016, and the department supports approximately 12,000 social workers serving veterans in some form. Social work is one of the prominent veterans affairs careers, offering professionals a wide range of specializations to function in.
Veterans social work
According to the VA, the department engages in a wide range of social work practices to provide support and empowerment for veterans. The process of developing a strategy to work with veterans typically includes:
- Assessing the needs of veterans by asking questions about their family, support systems, military experience, health, and similar factors.
- Determining if a crisis intervention or high-risk screening process is needed in light of the individual’s situation.
- Performing discharge planning to help a veteran negotiate the process of moving on from a dedicated care environment, such as a hospital. This often includes creating a pipeline for continuity of care.
- Providing long-term case management services to support veterans as they move through various chains of care over the course of their lives.
- Offering education and advocacy to position veterans to achieve their long-term goals and ensure vets get access to the services and support they need.
- Engaging in psychotherapy and clinical care in the form of individual, group, and family therapy.
While this list covers social work practices specific to working in the VA, there are other organizations that help veterans, including specialized nonprofits, creating opportunities for social workers who hope to use their skills to help veterans.
What it’s like to work with veterans
Social workers hoping to focus on veteran-related services can expect to face plenty of challenges, as modern warfare exposes soldiers to incredibly challenging circumstances. A Social Work Today report explained that many historic conditions associated with warriors are still commonplace among veterans, with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) both being fairly common in this group. As such, social workers with clinical expertise and the appropriate licensure can find themselves doing powerful work in help veterans navigate the traumatic aftereffects of war.
According to the article, social work for veterans also frequently incorporates a great deal of advocacy, speaking up for veterans and their families to ensure they get the attention and support needed. This can mean serving as an advocate when policy decisions are being made in the political sphere or helping to inform care and deployment strategies for soldiers in the field. In practice, social workers can end up filling a variety of roles for veterans, something that requires a deep knowledge of industry best practices so a social worker can handle the diverse tasks that come up as part of everyday work.
Why choose veteran-focused social work
The potential ability to have a positive impact on a veteran’s life, or the life of the individual’s family, can be a rewarding part of a social work position. However, that isn’t the only benefit you can expect. A report from The New Social Worker highlighted some of the perks that come with performing social work within the context of the VA, as it is the most prominent employer of master’s-level social workers in the country. In fact, this prominence makes up many of the best career-related reasons to focus on working with veterans.
The article explained that the VA is the single largest U.S. employer of social workers who possess a Master of Social Work degree. That scale of high-level social work can lead to major career benefits, including:
- Getting training and being mentored by industry leaders. Being in an organization with so many social workers put you in a position to frequently meet professionals with similar expertise who can help you grow. Working in the VA, you’ll be in an organization populated with numerous expert social workers, so even if you are in a somewhat isolated role, you will still have plenty of colleagues in the organization to go to for support. The New Social Worker report highlighted training and access to innovative programs as key benefits for social workers in the VA.
- Having flexibility in where you work and what kinds of roles you pursue. Because the VA employs so many social workers, it also frequently offers job openings and promotion opportunities as workers retire or change jobs. If you want to move to a different location without starting over with a new organization, the VA can create that opportunity. If you’re seeking promotions, you often end up with clear pathways and an understanding of what you need to do to advance.
- Being valued as a contributor to the primary priorities of an organization. In many settings, social workers take on a background role and off face diminishing budgets and little recognition. According to The New Social Worker, the way the VA prioritizes social work creates a culture in which social workers are not only highly valued, but also have many opportunities to provide leadership and have a meaningful voice in the organization.
Preparing for a future in veteran social work
Social workers need a broad range of skills to provide support for veterans and their families. A report from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) established dedicated standards for ethics, qualifications, knowledge, assessment, intervention, treatment planning, and other areas of care to apply specifically to veterans. Working with this population group creates unique operational dynamics and often requires specialized skills.
Pursuing a Master of Social Work degree can go a long way in preparing individuals for the social work challenges that emerge in working with veterans. An MSW program can provide clinical training, specialized coursework, and exposure to big-picture issues in the industry that can help social workers better meet the needs of veterans. At Regis College, our online MSW focuses on clinical skills and can help you work toward a career in veteran services. Reach out today to learn more about our progam.