Academic journal article Social Work

Civilian Social Work: Serving the Military and Veteran Populations

Academic journal article Social Work

Civilian Social Work: Serving the Military and Veteran Populations

Article excerpt

Media coverage highlighting service delivery problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center has led to heightened public scrutiny and congressional oversight regarding the care provided to returning Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) service members and their families. A multitude of factors may have contributed to the breakdown of services at one of the U.S. military's premier medical facilities, and it would be shortsighted to believe that military and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities are solely responsible for the challenges faced by returning service members and their families.

Although U.S. military operations in the Middle East began in October 2001, clear leadership has not emerged for civilian social workers regarding their role in supporting the needs of returning service members, veterans, and their families. NASW's (2003) Peace and Social Justice policy statement includes a call to "continue using qualified professional social workers to serve the armed forces and military dependents to ensure that a high priority is given to human values and social welfare needs in those settings" (pp. 268-269). Nevertheless, the social work literature provides little practical guidance to civilian social workers on how best to serve the military and veteran populations. Social work organizations have failed to emphasize or disseminate information and tools to aid social workers in assisting a population in need of social work services. Finally, universities preparing social workers have done little to integrate content on this special population into the social work curriculum. Given that our country has been at war for nearly eight years, the deficit in guidance and paucity of research promulgated by the social work profession is alarming. As practitioners bound by a set of core principles emphasizing service, social justice, and competence, social workers must acknowledge the factors affecting the health and well-being of military and veteran families and integrate this knowledge into practice. This article describes some of the current challenges facing military and veteran clients and their families, highlighting opportunities for civilian social workers to address these challenges.


Since September 11,2001, more than 1.5 million troops have been deployed in support of the OEF and OIE Of those deployed, a large percentage has served multiple tours of duty, with some service members experiencing as many as five deployments (American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Military Deployment Services for Youth, Families and Service Members [APA], 2007, p. 9).

The reserve components of the U.S. military have played an integral role in deployed operations, and they continue to be called on to augment the fighting forces (Alvarez, 2007). In 1973, the Department of Defense (DoD), which had previously relied on an active duty force, embraced a "total force" policy, demanding reliance on and mobilization of six military reserve components (Reserve Forces Policy Board, 2004).The total force policy signified a departure from the traditional military structure in which almost all military families resided on or near military installations. Instead, members were now broadly distributed throughout the United States, with significant numbers living and working in civilian communities (Knox & Price, 1999). As of 2005, there were approximately 2.5 million active duty and reserve component military personnel, with reservists and National Guard members representing roughly 45 percent of the DoD's total military force (DoD, 2006a).

The military has also become increasingly diverse. Over 25 percent of active duty personnel are members of an ethnic minority group. Women represent 16 percent of the total force and are represented in 90 percent of all military job categories (APA, 2007).

More than 160,000 female soldiers have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, as compared with 7,500 who served in Vietnam and the 41,000 who were dispatched to the gulf war in the early '90s. …

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