Military Social Worker Newbie Guide

Military Social Worker Newbie Guide

The unique challenges faced by military members, veterans, and their families drive demand for military social workers (MSW), a reality that leads to outstanding veteran employment opportunities. Military social workers provide support and mental healthcare to the people who serve our country. Social workers are likely to work with a military personnel client at some point in their career, but there are many who choose to focus their studies on understanding the military, helping clients address the unique challenges that accompany a life of service.

How to Become a Military Social Worker

Here is an overview of the common steps you may take to become a military social worker:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree. With a bachelor’s degree in social work, you may be qualified for a number of entry-level and assistant positions. But nearly all social work jobs require a license—and for that, you must hold an MSW.

  2. Complete a master’s in social work degree program. A Master of Social Work (MSW) is the minimum educational requirement for a career in military social work. Of course, before you can apply to a master’s program, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree. While not always required, you may wish to major in social work or a related discipline like psychology or sociology.

A graduate social work degree with a military focus will likely require you to complete a clinical internship before graduation. When searching for an internship, look for one at a military base or in a military clinic. Not only will this give you relevant experience, it will also help you decide if a career in military social work is a good fit for you.

Make sure the school you attend for your masters is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), which simply ensures academic excellence. This association oversees social work education in the U.S. and has accredited more than 700 programs.

What Do Military Social Workers Do?

Military social workers can wear many hats. Services they provide may include:

  1. Mental healthcare
  2. Individual and family counseling
  3. Access to financial and other resources
  4. Crisis intervention
  5. Integration support for veterans
  6. Veteran advocacy

As you now know, military life can be traumatic. Social workers help veterans and active service members work through mental and emotional challenges, providing therapy, risk assessments, and counseling, as well as access to supportive resources. 

Many times, veterans need help adjusting to civilian life. Social workers may help to ease this transition. They also advocate for veterans with physical or mental disabilities, as well as those facing financial hardship. This may mean teaming up with nonprofits and coordinating with both state and federal governments. In some cases, advocacy includes leading military support programs at a community, state, or national level. 

Sometimes, social workers step in to protect family members of military personnel. In situations involving domestic violence, substance abuse, or suicidal tendencies, social workers intervene to prevent things from escalating and to get treatment for those involved. They work in tandem with medical and health care professionals.

Career Paths for the Military Social Worker

While the large majority of MSW students on the military track are veterans or military-connected spouses, relatives or friends, “the only prerequisite for pursuing a military social work education is caring about the military community.”

Military social workers go on to pursue a number of challenging and rewarding careers. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is the single largest employer of social workers in the world, making it an obvious choice for many military social workers. Through the VA, military social workers can find positions in everything from clinical work at VA hospitals to policymaking at the institutional level.

Some MSW graduates choose to enlist in the military themselves< and become uniformed social workers, often serving active-duty troops at a military base. Others elect to work in government agencies or the nonprofit sector to provide organizational support to veterans and military families, with a growing number of alumni launching their own nonprofit organizations to address issues specific to the military community.

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 Much Do Military Social Workers Make?

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.

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