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.

Military personnel and veterans face emotional and physical 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 individual 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 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
  • PTSD - working with the individual and family
  • Mental health for the veteran and the family
  • 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  

Becoming a Military Social Worker with a MSW

There are a few paths to becoming a military social worker. One of those paths is to enroll in an accredited Masters of Social Work (MSW) program with a concentration in a military social work track. At several schools, this will involve direct coursework and training for this population. At 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.

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

As a MSW student interested in military social work you can focus your coursework on clinical practice, developing skills in providing counseling and psychotherapeutic treatment. Because the cornerstone of the MSW education is the field work experience, you can then choose a field placement that provides you work experience with military workers. In this case, you would pursue clinical practice work as a student, and then build an expertise with this population through a dedicated fieldwork placement with a military agency or hospital. You could also supplement this by focusing one of your field work practicums on substance abuse or another related practice areas, such as the aged. Veterans are at increased risk for substance abuse. And at present there is a strong need to support aging veterans.

The point is, 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.

Finally, the Department of US Veterans is one of the largest employers of Masters 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 Department of US Veterans trains close to 1,000 MSWs 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.

Nedda Gilbert

Ms. Gilbert is a certified social worker and 30 year educational consultant with an interest in helping college-bound and graduate school students manage the process and stress of admissions effectively. She is one of the senior founding managers of the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company, and the author of The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and another book, Business School Essays that Made a Difference (Random House). She is a guest contributor to Forbes Magazine on college and college life. Ms. Gilbert is also certified as a collaborative family law professional in New Jersey. She received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and MS from Columbia University.