How to Become a Veterans Counselor

What is a Veterans Counselor?

Veterans counselors are grouped under the classification of rehabilitation counselors by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Rehabilitation counselors assist individuals with their physical and emotional disabilities to enable them to live an independent life. The goal is to have clients manage or overcome the effects of their disabilities in their social, personal and professional lives. Veterans counselors deal with military veterans who may have disorders related to trauma experienced in a war zone, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), grief and guilt. As a result, veterans may suffer from depression and, in some cases, suicide. A rehabilitation counselor such as a Veterans Counselor will evaluate the client in terms of education, interests, health and abilities and develop a treatment plan by consulting with colleagues like psychologists and doctors. The counselor will provide counseling in a group or individual setting and arrange necessary services including career training and medical care.

Veterans counselors may use cognitive process therapy to assist clients in overcoming frightening or negative thoughts. Another type of therapy used is prolonged exposure therapy, where an individual is exposed to a stimulus in increasing degrees until he is desensitized to it. Progress is monitored and clients are encouraged to manage their limitations and focus on their strengths. Veterans counselorss can also provide vocational counseling. They may also work with families of veterans and serve as advocates for veterans and their families.

Related Reading: How to Become a Military Counselor

Where Does a Veterans Counselor Work?

The majority of veterans counselors work for veteran’s health centers like Veterans Administration (VA) clinics and hospitals. They are sometimes employed by mental health clinics, social service offices or community health facilities, and they may also find employment at general and psychiatric hospitals. Veterans counselors may be called upon to work in a higher education setting as part of an outreach program.

Rehabilitation counselors such as veterans counselors may work in private practice, where they are paid for their services by clients and insurance companies. Counselors in private practice market their practice to obtain clients. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 46 percent of rehabilitation counselors in general work in social assistance, 22 percent work in health care, 15 percent work for the state government and 6 percent worked for the local government, excluding education and hospitals.

What are the Requirements to Become a Veterans Counselor?

Education

Most employers require a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling or a related field like mental health counseling. While it may be possible to obtain employment in the field of veterans counseling with a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation and disability studies, such employees generally do not offer the full range of services provided by an individual with a master’s degree. Applicants will be accepted into a master’s degree program with most bachelor’s degrees. Individuals interested in working with veterans with PTSD or other psychiatric disturbances may want to go into a mental health counseling program. The Veterans Administration requires that mental health counselors complete a program that is accredited by CACREP, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs.

Aspiring veterans counselors entering a master’s degree program may learn techniques, skills and theories for effective mental health counseling. Students may also learn to evaluate the client’s needs and understand the psychological and medical aspects of a disability. Internships or other types of supervised training are generally required for hands-on, practical experience. Continuing education courses are offered through such organizations as the National Center for PTSD, part of the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Military service is considered a plus in obtaining employment in the field.

Licensing and Certification

Although licensing requirements differ from state to state, mental health counselors are required to obtain a license in every state. However, rehabilitation counselors who provide only vocational services or job placement assistance may not need to be licensed. To become licensed, the candidate must complete a master’s degree and up to 4,000 hours of clinical experience under supervision. The counselor must take an examination approved by the state. To maintain the license, the counselor must complete continuing education credits (CEU’s) annually.

To find out about certification requirements to become a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) and to find out your state licensing board contact information, visit the website for the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification.

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Veterans Counselors should be compassionate, possess good interpersonal and listening skills, and be patient as they help veterans in their struggle to address their problems.

What is the Salary of a Veterans Counselor?

According to the Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 the median annual wage for a rehabilitation counselor was $33,880. The top ten percent earned over $59,330, while the lowest ten percent earned under $20,990. State government workers excluding education and hospitals earned a median wage of $43,550, those working in local government earned $41530, health care workers earned $32,290 and counselors in social assistance earned $30,390.

What is the Job Outlook for Veterans Counselors?

While the Department of Labor does not provide specific information for Veterans Counselors, the job outlook for all rehabilitation counselors is expected to grow 20 percent from 2012 to 2022. The Occupational Outlook Handbook states that employment of mental health counselors is projected to expand by 29 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations.

More people are expected to take advantage of services like veterans counseling as these services become covered by insurance. In addition, more people are now covered by health insurance as a result of federal legislation under the Affordable Care Act, and the law now requires insurance policies to cover mental health treatment the same way as other chronic diseases are treated. Also, an increasing number of military veterans is expected to seek treatment in the coming decade.

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