Social workers need help to help veterans

Posted Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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A little over a year ago, Paula Foster, a Nashville, Tenn.-based social worker, met a female veteran struggling with physical and mental health issues.

The former soldier had suffered a significant back injury during a deployment to Iraq. In addition to the physical pain she experienced, the soldier suffered from emotional distress and guilt.

During deployment, her injury kept her from participating in a convoy that was attacked on a resupply mission, claiming the life of her best friend.

As a social worker, Foster is trained to provide a holistic approach, one that, over the course of 14 months, helped bridge gaps in this veteran’s care, arming her with the coping skills she needed to re-engage in her family and her community.

Foster’s story is just one of many to demonstrate the crucial and unique role our social workers can play in supporting our veterans and military families.

For the past two years, the First Lady and I have been working to raise awareness of the service and sacrifices of our men and women in uniform and their families through our Joining Forces initiative to help forge an enduring national commitment to supporting them.

For the more than 1.3 million Americans who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, some of their toughest challenges don’t come on the battlefield. They come months, sometimes years, after they come home.

For these brave young men and women, their expertise on the battlefield might not be easily translated to a resume or college application. They may struggle to reconnect with friends and loved ones who have never seen what war looks like firsthand.

These reactions are natural, human responses and should never be a source of shame or stigma.

That’s why the commitment of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) to train more than 650,000 social workers — our nation’s largest group of mental health care providers — is so important.

It means our nation’s social workers will have access to training and resources to help meet the needs of troops, veterans and military families. Because only half of our nation’s veterans seek care through the Department of Defense and instead rely on civilian providers in their communities, social workers are uniquely positioned to reach service members and their families.

NASW’s work includes forming an expert panel of professional social workers from the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as clinical social workers, social work educators and researchers and private practitioners to create a variety of tools to educate and train all social workers on the needs of this population.

For example, NASW and the panel created new “Standards for Social Work Practice with Service Members, Veterans, and Their Families,” which have been visited online more than 20,000 times.

NASW also launched a military and veterans webpage (, which features resources and materials geared toward educating social workers on the unique strengths of and challenges facing military individuals and families. More than 7,000 social workers have already registered.

As a military mom, this is personal to me. This effort will help ease the burden for thousands of service members and military families whose service can never be repaid.

Dr. Jill Biden is Second Lady of the United States and leads the Joining Forces initiative with First Lady Michelle Obama.

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