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Nedda Gilbert
Noodle Expert Member

March 10, 2021

Do you have a desire to help others, and a particular interest in working directly with individuals who have served or are serving in the military? If so, becoming a military social worker may be right for you.

Why Specialize in Military Social Work?

Specializing in military social work means you understand the culture of military life and can help patients struggling with problems common to those in service.

Active duty military personnel and veterans face emotional and physical health challenges unique to military service and combat. In particular, combat veterans often return home with significant emotional and physical trauma. Returning veterans face a range of debilitating mental health issues including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and suicide. Many cope with permanent physical injury. Some veterans turn to alcohol and drugs to relieve stress. Further, re-entry into civilian life is often stressful on returning individuals and their families.

Because veterans present as a high-risk population, there is a tremendous need for social workers to provide services to veterans and their family members. Social workers not only play a vital role in providing treatment and establishing supports, but they also help service members and their families reconnect with the greater community.

Social workers provide professional treatment and offers assistance to military personnel for a variety of problems and mental health disorders such as:

  • Military to civilian life reentry and support
  • Physical injury and disability
  • Post-traumatic stress - working with the individual and family
  • Mental health for the military and military families
  • Developing positive strategies for stress
  • Crisis intervention
  • Alcohol and substance abuse
  • Domestic abuse
  • Resource navigation for benefits, housing, finances and educations
  • Support for older, aging veterans

Educational Requirements to Become a Military Social Worker

There are a few paths to becoming a military social worker, one of which is to enroll in an accredited Master of Social Work (MSW) program with a concentration in military social work (after completing your bachelor's degree). At some schools, this will involve direct coursework and training for this population. For other programs, you may find unique collaborations between your school and a veteran hospital or community agency, where you can develop your expertise around the needs of military individuals through hands-on experience.

If flexibility is important, you can also get earn an online master's in social work from the University of Southern California, allowing you to continue to work full- or part-time while you complete your degree. Several other universities offer this concentration online as well.

That said, you need not limit yourself only to a social work program with a formal military social work track or mission. Social work study presents unique opportunities to develop and build expertise as a military social worker in a number of ways.

How to Prepare for a Career in Military Social Work

  • MSW students interested in military social work may choose to focus their studies on clinical practice, developing skills in providing counseling and psychotherapeutic treatment.
  • Because the cornerstone of the MSW education is field work experience, many MSW students choose a field placement that provides work experience with military workers. In this case, students pursue clinical practice to build expertise with this population through a dedicated fieldwork placement with a military agency or hospital.
  • MSW students can focus one of their field work practicums on substance abuse, the aged, or another related practice areas, as veterans are at increased risk for substance abuse, and at present there is a strong need to support aging veterans.

There are many ways to become qualified as a military social worker. It may be worthwhile to contact the academic advisor and fieldwork liaisons at the social work school you are considering to learn more about this meaningful career path.

Where Do Military Social Workers Find Jobs?

The US Department of Veteran Affairs is one of the largest employers of master's-level social workers. They operate one of the largest clinical training programs for social workers through a clinical traineeship program.

Affiliated with over 100 graduate schools, the US Department of Veteran Affairs trains close to 1,000 master's degree-holding social workers a year for a career devoted to the military workers and their families. To learn more about the work they do, and where you may find opportunities to train visit this website from the VA.