Military social workers support military personnel and their family members with their unique challenges, ranging from maintaining successful family units to dealing with the traumatic after-effects of combat.
As social workers, they have a unique person-in-environment focus. Those who carry their education to a high level can provide mental health services, administer programs, provide case management services, and connect their clients with a vast array of resources. Clinical social work often involves evaluations and assessments as well as therapy.
While some military social workers are commissioned, others are civilian. Social workers may be hired by various entities that have contracts with the federal government.
Military Social Worker Roles
Some military social workers connect military service personnel and their families with resources. They may compete with professionals from other social service disciplines. In some cases, they can be considered with degrees at less than the graduate level.
Some positions are specifically for clinical social workers. The military unit may, for example, seek case management for complex cases. In many cases, though, clinical social workers compete for positions against graduate level professionals from other mental health disciplines.
There is some overlap in skill set and focus between military and veteran populations.
Preparing for a Career in Military Social Work
The basic requirements are the same for military social workers as for other social workers. Prospective social workers begin by enrolling in programs that are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Those who want to provide clinical services will need graduate degrees and clinical licensing.
Employers may want to see prior experience working with military populations and families. Personal experience as a service member or family member may be highly valued.
While the foundation is the same as for other social work careers, aspiring military social workers can seek out focused educational opportunities. Among the options are graduate certificates in military social work. Some are available online. In some cases, certificate programs can be pursued concurrently with master’s education.
Topics may include resiliency building, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide risk assessment, family therapy during deployment, and issues faced by service women.
Military Social Work Employment Contexts
Military social workers are often involved with particular governmental programs. The Military and Family Life Counseling (MFLC) Program is among the most common. The MFLC provides mental health services for adults and children. The duties of an MFLC counselor can include administering assessments, providing solution-focused counseling, and giving presentations on psychosocial issues. Organizations may hire separately for adult and youth positions. One will find postings for mental health professionals who can provide “non-medical” counseling. They are still master’s level.
There is also need in medical centers. Social workers may work in military hospitals and clinics such as TRICARE Prime Clinic Chesapeake; this particular facility lists its specialties as primary care and social work. TRICARE lists clinical facilities at military bases and stations throughout the country (https://www.tricare.mil/mtf?specialty=map).
Some non-military hospitals will still see a lot of Tricare patients (individuals with military insurance).
Professionals may be involved with programs such as the Exceptional Family Members Program; it supports military families who have family member with special needs: developmental, physical, mental, and/ or psychological.
One can even find health organizations seeking in-school support for youth and children in Department of Defense (DoDEA) schools.
Positions can involve program administration. One recent posting was for Soldier and Family Assistance Program Manager.
Military Social Worker Professional Certification
Those with experience may want to look into professional certification to validate their competencies.
The National Association of Social Workers NASW offers three certifications reflecting different levels and types of training.
The Military Service Members, Veterans & Their Families – Social Worker (MVF-SW) credential is open to bachelor’s level practitioners.
The Military Service Members, Veterans & Their Families – Advanced Social Worker (MVF-ASW) is for professionals with education at the master’s level.
In both instances, candidates will need at least two years of experience working with qualifying populations (service members, veterans, and families).
The Military Service Members, Veterans & Their Families – Clinical Social Worker (MVF-CSW) is for graduate-level clinical social workers.
The MVF-CSW requires fully three years of supervised experience with relevant populations.
Candidates for any of the above certificates will need some population-specific continuing education. They will need to provide supervisor and colleague references.
Military Social Worker Resources
The National Association of Social Workers has provided practice tools, professional development, and other resources for military and veteran social workers (https://www.socialworkers.org/Practice/Military-Veterans).
The Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families boasts a number of faculty members who focus on military social work research (https://dworakpeck.usc.edu/research/military-and-veteran-programs/military-and-veterans-research). Among the topics currently being researched are the following: motivating military personnel to seek healthcare, understanding the impact of military social networks on health, preventing sexual assault, predicting suicidal tendency, and improving training for treating PTSD in DoD facilities.
The Military Families Learning Network provides training for professionals who work with military families (https://militaryfamilieslearningnetwork.org). The organization has multiple teams, including nutrition and wellness, family transitions, family development & early intervention, and personal finance, among others.
Other Social Work Careers