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What is Military Social Work?

June 10, 2018

Civil War veteran Robert G. Ingersoll once said, “He loves his country best who strives to make it best.” The quote rings true for both veterans and military social workers. Whether serving on the battlefield or on home soil, active-duty military personnel as well as veterans turn to social workers for critical services.

Responsibilities of a Military Social Worker

Veterans and active-duty service members turn to military social workers for help dealing with psychological and emotional disorders, child abuse, addiction, domestic violence or thoughts of suicide. Military social workers may provide individual and family counseling, crisis intervention, support for families of active-duty service members, and debriefing after critical events. Those serving in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps can receive counseling for psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Military social workers today may address the emotional affects caused by World War II, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, the War in Afghanistan, the Iraq War, as well as conflicts in Somalia and the Persian Gulf.

Military Social Workers may work within the Department of Social Work, the Community Mental Health Service, the Family Advocacy Program and the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Program to develop and implement disease prevention and health promotion programs. They may also participate in or lead research into social issues such as pre-deployment and post-deployment resiliency, comprehensive healthcare, and transitioning to civilian life. Military social workers may also assist in the training of medical personnel.

They may obtain employment at veterans’ service organizations, military-related agencies, or start their own private practice. Service Centers located at military bases also offer employment to social workers who can provide financial management assistance, relocation support, and services to family members with special needs.

How to Become a Military Social Worker

Those interested in military social work can choose from two different specializations: 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). A Master’s Degree in Social Work is required for most positions and university courses will help prepare students with the necessary skills and knowledge. An education and specialized training will help aspiring military social workers understand the many complexities of the field.

According to an article by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), social work professionals practicing micro military social work need to understand:

  • Military culture and subcultures
  • The life-stage and developmental influences of basic and advanced military training
  • The multidimensionality of vulnerability, risk, and resilience associated with military service and deployments
  • How pre-military experiences impact military and deployment-related outcomes
  • Empirical evidence regarding the behavioral manifestations, comorbidities, and evidence-based treatments for combat-related PTSD compared to PTSD in civilians
  • Unique barriers to care related to stigma and potential negative military career implications
  • The influence of military indoctrination, socialization, training, and unit cohesion on vulnerability, risk, and resilience
  • How physical symptoms and psychiatric diagnoses may affect; Military career progression, Security clearances, Military medical reviews, Fitness-for-duty evaluations, Disability ratings and compensation, and Separation from military service

After completing a Master’s degree in Social Work, army social workers will receive Advanced Individual Training (AIT) through the Army’s Medical Service Corps. Navy social workers, on the other hand, will attend a five-week Office Development School (ODS) in Rhode Island. Military social workers must possess knowledge of the advanced practice behaviors and standards of care outlined by the Council on Social Work Education and the National Association of Social Workers, respectively.

Salary and Career Outlook

Salaries will vary, depending on which branch of military social workers choose for employment. Glassdoor estimates provide an annual range of $47,371 to $80,000 for U.S. Army Social Workers. The social work job outlook is expected to grow 15 percent—faster than the national average—according to estimates by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By 2026, the field of social work will add over 100,000 jobs—an encouragement to future graduates.

Why Choose a Career in Military Social Work

A career in military social work is a privilege to work with the brave individuals who were willing to sacrifice their lives for the freedoms of millions of Americans. The many challenges and hurdles that veterans and active-duty service members face can seem insurmountable. The care and support of military social workers can be as simple as having a conversation and can help decrease the unfortunately high rates of suicide among veterans. Military social workers across the nation are working diligently to address and resolve the many issues affecting U.S. military personnel and their families—a truly rewarding career, indeed, that is making an impact on countless lives. Start your career in Military Social Work with a Master’s Degree in Social Work.