Armed Forces See Need for Social Workers

By Rena Malai, NEWS Staff

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.

From the January 2012 NASW News. NASW members click here for the full story.


  1. Hello Everyone,

    I spent over twenty years teaching history, and left the profession (for a number of reasons). I have accepted to an excellent school to get my MSW, and my biggest desire as a budding social workers is to work with our veterans and our active and reserve service members. My biggest concern is my age. I turned 55 last September (2017) and I’m not sure that any of the armed services, or the DoD, would want me because of that.

    I can’t think of a greater calling than to help our service members who have given so much, and who are in need. In fact, I do believe that I’d crawl on my belly to work with our service people, I respect them so much. I just worry that time is working against me… :(


  2. Hello all,

    I’m current LCSW and applying to join the Army reserves with the same position. I was hoping to speak with anybody regarding their own personal experiences. Please feel free to contact me or reply below regarding any important information which would be helpful in the process. Thank you

  3. MAJ Matz,

    Thank you for the information you posted regarding service as an Army Social Worker.

    I am personally grateful to you for you service to our country and to our country’s warriors. Words alone cannot express the depth of this gratitude. You are honored and loved.

  4. The Army is facing many challenges after a decade of war. Our Soldiers and families are tired. This article only touches on the stress. Watch the news or read a newspaper and it won’t take long to know suicide rates, PTS(D) and depression cases are a major concern to the Army leadership. Social workers have the skills to make the difference for our heroes.

    I am an active duty Army social worker. Prior to commissioning (becoming an officer) I was a civilian DoD social worker with prior time working for the Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs. Since commissioning I have had the opportunity to work in a hospital setting, unit settings, and deployed settings. The skills I have developed; the opportunities I have been given; the places I have seen, the relationships I have built; the heroes I have had the honor to treat has continued to encourage me in this career path with excitement.

    The Army is not easy. There is no such thing as regular business hours. You will leave your friends and family behind for trainings, deployments, or assignments. There are professional responsibilities beyond being a social worker that are just as important as your clinical skills that must be learned and practiced (as an officer you are a Soldier first). These challenges have made Army Social Work the most personally and professionally rewarding and difficult experiences of my life, not just career.

    If you are considering Active Duty Army Social Work know that the Army will require far more of you than your clinical skills and license provide you. But also know you are helping those heroes and their families that have given so much and you will also be a Soldier amongst our ranks. I would not trade that opportunity for any job.

    MAJ Terry Matz, LCSW, BCD
    ILE student
    CGSC- Fort Gordon, GA

    The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government

  5. Catherine Louise, LCSW

    I am very curious about who is hiring LCSW’s to work with military families- A friend who is a Psychologist shared with me an opportunity to serve, that also would qualify as a loan repayment site. As a social worker nearing retirement, with 70,000 in outstanding student loans, this is a very attractive option. I can’t imagine I am the only social worker in this predicament. I would love to hear of any such opportunities available. Hopefully something like this is in the works for social workers.

  6. Gary Bachman, MSSW, LSCW

    The current volume and distribution of personnel returning from overseas duty, back into their families, civilian employment and expectations, in rural as well as urban environments, virtually demands that all social workers must be prepared to recognize and professionally respond to emerging needs. This preparation must include baccalaureate as well as master’s, level students: generalists and clinical alike. Complicating this response is the practice of the uniformed services and the VA system to employ, with few exceptions, only clinicians with the MSW or similar advanced “clinical” training. Similarly, student internships through the VA are largely restricted to master’s level students in clinical tracks. All of this is in spite of the established reality that much of the burden of our current “global war” is being leveled on the backs of men and women, reservists and national guard, from largely rural communities. Beyond the VA system, it will often be baccalaureate prepared social workers who are typically employed in the variety of direct service/case management roles in the area of community mental health, homelessness, child protection, domestic violence, foster care, public schools, acute care hospitals, physical rehabilitation/skilled nursing facilities, and nonprofit as well as state social welfare services, that will most often be stepping into the gap to confront this surge.

    We cannot afford to avoid this growing populations of men, women, and children whose well being has been, or might reasonably be expected to be, profoundly affected by the consequences of what is officially described as a “global war on terrorism.” Individuals, families, and communities are today facing unfamiliar and often overwhelming challenges only compounded by widespread economic woes. Whereas many of the challenges are remarkably similar to those that social workers have long been successfully helping others confront and overcome through such pursuits as advocacy, crisis intervention, resource finding, case management, brokerage of services, education, and counseling, there are new and confounding challenges that demand a measure of focused preparation and sensitivity. Read more at:
    Gary Bachman

  7. Wouldnt it be safer for the soldiers and better for treatment if the social workers were not enlisted but rather civilian? It feels like a dangerous conflict of interest to me for a soldier to seek counseling services from someone serving as well….more like a barrier to opening up and seeking the help needed.

    • Hello Wendy, I can see your point in the matter. Howbeit, I strongly feel that it is imperative that a social worker knows exactly what the soldier is going through, and how so? By having been through the same experience. A soldier will relate to you significantly more and will respect you and open up to you more, if he/she knows that you have served. I believe rank matters in the situation as well, mostly if you want to reach a wider range of military populations (with various ranks). Not just “anybody” has the ability and patience to be a social worker from the start. So even if one has served, one possesses the mental resilience required to flex back and listen to that soldier who is having problems back in civilian life or lacks the motivation to keep fighting for his country, and be able to give him the right help. A social worker who has experienced active duty will be a better source of help due to aforementioned reasons.

      Social workers are like angels, sent to those in need, to understand; with patience and love, build a strong and stable force with our military families.

  8. I am a military spouse and I have looked into the US Army MSW program but after talking to several people, I think the program lacks quality and opted for a civilian program. My husband is AD and there wouldn’t have been an issue with me getting in, despite having two young children.

    @Andera, did you talk to a AMEDD recruiter about your eligibility? To my knowledge you cannot join unless you have a LCSW. Even as an AD Officer. Dr. Freeman from the MSW program in SA, TX told me that once you started the MSW you cannot join for the ‘internship phase’. There is a group on FB with current students and recruiters if you want to look into it again.

    @Michelle, according to a recent Army Times article, there will be an increased need for LCSW only in the BN level (if I remember that correctly) to assist soldiers and family. This is the reason why there is an increased need for SW. MTF also use AD/Civilian LCSW and provide the training for AD/Reserve/Civilian students that currently hold an MSW.

  9. Andrea Shaughnessey

    I agree with Michelle. I am a military spouse, past civilian GS employee and recent MSW that just got licensed. Several of us are feeling the pinch of the new DoD budget. Contract positions are decreasing and I am not eligible for Active Duty service since my husband still has 3 years left on his contract. Where are the civilian positions?

  10. Congrats to Judy Dekle for excelling to this point in her career! I’m very proud to have worked with Judy in Orlando in the 1980’s and early 1990’s—way to go!!!!

    Great article and hope to see more like it.

  11. According to the article, it sounds like the idea is to increase the number of commissioned social workers (officers). Yet at the same time, there is a huge need for social workers working with military in general, civilian or commissioned. Being a student, most of the opportunities for job placement within mtfs are for INDEPENDENTLY LICENSED social workers. What about LGSWs, who could do much of the same work (while being supervised)? This is where I see a huge disconnect, unless I have misunderstood or have not read about such opportunities….

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