Military Social Work Degrees and Careers – How to Become a Military Social Worker

Last Updated: June 1, 2024

What is Military Social Work?

As the name implies, military social work is the practice of supporting the men and women of the armed forces and their families. Military social work can be undertaken during times of deployment – such as working with spouses and children to cope with the stress of their loved one being gone for long periods of time.

Many military social work activities also revolve around helping families cope with the frequent moves that come with being a military family, such as helping children forge bonds with peers at each new military base.

Social workers also support families after military members return from duty. In this capacity, military social workers play in important role in helping each member of the family readjust to having their loved one home again. Sometimes, this means working with kids to get reacquainted with the parent that has been deployed.

It might also include reacquainting spouses that have been separated for some time. Much work is also done with the military member to help him or her adjust back to civilian life, such as addressing a substance abuse issue or dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

This focus on returning to civilian life is a central component of military social work. Sometimes this transition can be difficult to make, particularly if a member of the armed forces has been injured in combat or has suffered emotional trauma or loss. Social work services in this realm might include counseling or arranging for mental or physical services to address a specific need.

Military social work is also concerned with helping veterans find employment, schooling, housing, and other essentials that are facilitative of transitioning back to civilian life.

What is a Military Social Worker?

A military social worker supports military families when service members are deployed, and when they return. Some military social workers are stationed with troops, helping them process trauma (i.e. the war, injuries, loss, etc.).

Other military social workers help service members cope with depression, anxiety, financial hardships, adjustment issues, substance abuse, domestic violence, post-traumatic stress syndrome, etc.).

In addition, many military social workers assist veterans. More specifically, they help service members transition back into society, following their stints in the armed forces.

These social workers also help families process the deployment of their loved ones. This is especially common amongst children, many of which, cannot fully process the “loss” of a parent, even for a short amount of time.

Ultimately, military social workers help service members improve their lives (i.e. manage mental health conditions, reduce stress, cope with the trauma of war, and resolve issues).

Related: How to Become a Military Psychologist

Where Does a Military Social Worker Work?

Military social workers typically work in the following environments:

  • Private practices (counseling practices)
  • Veterans’ service organizations
  • Military-related agencies
  • Military bases
  • Military hospitals
  • Military service centers

What are the Requirements to Become a Military Social Worker?

Military Social Worker Education

A bachelor’s degree (BSW) in social work/sociology is required for entry-level military social work positions. However, some military branches may hire social workers, who have bachelor’s degrees in human services or psychology.

An undergraduate  program prepares you for career like military case manager (case worker) and military mental health technician (assistant). The goal of this type of social work/sociology program is to teach you how to counsel, support, and provide services to service members and their families.

Courses at the undergraduate level may include: Human Behavior and Social Environment I, Individuals with Diverse & Exceptional Needs, Health Care Delivery in the United States, Medical Ethics, Sociology of Death, Social Welfare Policies and Research. You will also need to understand the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the history of military social work.

Before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in social work, you might be required to complete a supervised clinical internship on a military base or within a military branch.

As a mentioned previously, in some cases, only a bachelor’s degree in social work/sociology is required to become a military social worker, however in most cases, military branches prefer a master’s degree (MSW) in social work. For instance, a military social worker may need a master’s degree (MSW), plus 2 to 3 years of post-degree, supervised clinical social work experience, if he or she wants to work with service members and families, who have complex mental illnesses.

Related: Becoming a Trauma Counselor

You will also need a master’s degree if you want to have a private practice. A master’s degree generally takes 2.5 years (30 semester hours/40 classes and 900 clinical internship hours in a mental health field) to complete, although some graduate social work programs allow you to earn a master’s degree in 12 months.

A graduate social work program prepares you to administer clinical assessments, provide supervision to entry-level military social workers, and offer resources to service members and their families. With a master’s degree in social work, you will be eligible to seek employment as a commissioned officer in the military or military reserve.

Courses required at the master’s level may include: Grief Therapy, Trauma & Loss, Social Welfare, Social Work Practice with Families, Groups, and Complex Cases, Social Work Research, Human Behavior and Social Environment II, and Policy and Practice in Social Service Organizations.

Military Social Worker Training

Additional training in the field may help you prepare for a career in the military social work field. These social workers work with diverse populations, so if possible become active within your community. Volunteering at military organizations (i.e. military/VA hospitals) may help you become accustomed to interacting with service members and their families.

You can also volunteer your services to military service members and military families, who cannot afford to pay for counseling services. You may also want to join the military before applying for a military social work position. Gaining experience as a service member may help you better understand the issues facing these individuals and their families.

Military Social Worker Licensure

In order to provide services to service members and their families, you will need to acquire a license. Research your state’s requirements to determine if a license is required to practice as a “clinical social worker.” Almost all states require military social workers to be licensed.

A master’s degree in social work/sociology, along with 2 years of clinical mental health experience (working service members and their families), following graduation, is required to become a Licensed Social Worker (LSC). Once you have completed all of the requirements, you will be required to pass a licensure exam.

What Personal Skills are Required for a Military Social Worker?

  • Compassion: Military social workers often work with service members and military families, who are in the midst of stressful, difficult and challenging situations. You will need a high level of compassion and empathy, if you want these individuals to trust you.
  • Social Skills: Military social workers must be able to work with a variety of people (i.e. various races, cultures, families, religions, lifestyles, ages, etc.). You will need social skills to develop and nurture positive relationships with service members, military families, and colleagues.
  • Listening Skills: To be a successful military social worker, you will need to have good listening skills. Service members and their families need to feel comfortable sharing their innermost fears, and problems with you, so you will need to actively listen to what they are saying, in order to help them resolve their issues.
  • Organizational Skills: You will need good organizational skills because this career typically consists of managing multiple clients, and helping service members and military families complete paperwork (intake forms), and documenting treatments, and client progress.
  • Problem-Solving Skills: You will also need strong problem-solving skills, if you want to be a successful military social worker. These skills are important for helping service members and their families find solutions to their problems.
  • Time-Management Skills: As military social worker, you will provide services to present and past service members, and their families. And, as a result you will need to effectively manage your time, so that you can provide quality care to all of your clients.

What are the Job Duties of a Military Social Worker?

Military social workers typically perform the following job functions:

  • Providing counseling services to service members and their families suffering from traumas, losses, deaths, mental illnesses, and psychological disorders.
  • Assessing the needs, strengths, weaknesses, situations, and support systems of service members and their families, in an effort to develop short-term and long-term goals and treatment plans.
  • Developing treatment plans that are designed to improve the mental health and well-being of service members and their families.
  • Helping service members and their families adjust to life changes (i.e. illnesses, divorces, debt, death, and/or unemployment).
  • Helping military families sign up for government assistance (i.e. military benefits)
  • Tracking the progress of service members and their families.
  • Evaluating military mental health services to ensure that they are still effective.
  • Providing direct services (i.e. counseling, crisis intervention and debriefing after critical events) to service members and their families.
  • Planning and implementing disease prevention and health promotion programs for service members.
  • Conducting research on social issues, and assisting in the training of medical personnel.

What is the Salary and Job Outlook for Military Social Workers?

As of May 2023, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics  reports that the average salary for social workers in general is approximately $64,360, per year, on average. If you fall in the lower 10%, you can expect to make approximately $36,760, but if you fall in the upper 10%, you can expect to make approximately $93,000 or more, per year, on average.

Social work positions in general are expected to increase 7% by the year 2032. This increase will stem from the increase of wars, and the need for more service members. As more and more people sign up for the military, the need for military social workers will rise.

Service members and their families will need access to counseling services and resources. The career outlook for this career field is positive. As a military social worker, you will more than likely work weekends, evenings, holidays, and overtime. You may also be required to reside on a military base.

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