In the aftermath of the global war on terror, officials say the number of enlisted social workers within the military has gone down and the need to rebuild those ranks is greater than ever.
Soldiers experiencing mental health challenges — ranging from posttraumatic stress, depression, anxiety and personal problems — can face risks to their overall health, their relationships with family and friends, and their careers if the problems are left untreated.
The stigma associated with seeking mental health services and assistance from professionals, including social workers, is slowly changing as efforts are being made to recruit more military social workers to deal with the effects of more than a decade of war in numerous countries.
“A lot of people in the military struggle with the idea of seeking help,” said NASW Senior Political Action Associate Brian Dautch. “It’s important for both veterans and their families that they seek help.”
Judith Ward Dekle, senior program analyst within the Office of Family Policy for Children/Youth for the Department of Defense, met with NASW staff to discuss ways NASW and DoD can link social workers to the military and provide career direction to recent graduates and newcomers to the field.
Dekle stressed the importance of help being accessible to those living with the challenges of a military lifestyle, even in peace time, and the valuable knowledge and expertise social workers can expect to acquire from working with military members and their families.
According to Anthony Hassan, director of the Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families, the U.S. military has launched a number of initiatives to bolster the social worker ranks within all the services.
“If you believe in an all-volunteer force, then you believe that we need to care for the men and women in uniform,” he said.
Hassan noted that the U.S. Navy is increasing social workers exponentially by offering an opportunity for MSW candidates without their license to enter the Navy and complete a two-year externship.
“The military is doing a wonderful job of recruiting more social workers,” Hassan said. “Beyond the clinical social work opportunities, there are many leadership opportunities in the military for social workers if they choose to go this way.”
Col. Derrick Arincorayan, social work consultant to the office of the Surgeon General Army, stated that the Army Medical Department Center and School has partnered with Fayetteville State University in North Carolina to offer an accelerated eight-month MSW program to soldiers who have a BSW, or a 14-month program for soldiers who have a non-social work bachelor’s degree.
According to the program guidelines, students complete their course work through AMEDDC&S and obtain their MSW from FSU. Within two years, graduates will have the opportunity to test for their LCSW.
“Officers applying to this program have an advantage of already knowing military culture,” Arincorayan said. “This type of work is a calling, and we represent social work professionally.”
For BSW and B.A. civilians considering a career in the military, the U.S. Air Force is offering eight MSW scholarships to any school of the student’s choosing through the Air Force Health Profession Scholarship Program, said Col. David Hammiel, Air Force social work consultant.
The program guidelines state that applicants must be accepted to an MSW program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education and also must enroll in a clinical track to apply for an HPSP scholarship. The scholarship will fully cover up to two years of the graduate program.
After completion, graduates are enrolled in a five-week commissioned officer training program followed by a one-year internship that prepares them for their first permanent-duty station.
Hammiel said the Air Force also is authorized to recruit MSW civilians for 20 social work internship slots. These individuals must have an MSW from a CSWE-accredited school and at least one year of postgraduate clinical experience working in a mental health setting with an adult population.
If accepted into the program, candidates will complete the five-week commissioned officer training program and then complete a one-year internship at one of four bases, where they learn the specifics about Air Force mental health programs.
“Social workers are very important,” Hammiel said. “We’re offering incentives such as bonuses and Ph.D. programs for our current social workers, while putting programs in place to recruit more. There is a wealth of opportunity within the Air Force for social workers. They’re able to do a variety of things in a variety of places and live all over the world.”
The Give an Hour Campaign, endorsed by NASW, is a grassroots, nonprofit organization that provides members of the military, veterans, and their loved ones with free counseling.