What happens to a military family if the only mental health care professional in their county is the local social worker? What happens if they are in crisis and the social worker secretly thinks the only people who join the military are losers who can’t get other jobs? What happens if that social worker has never known anyone in the service and doesn’t even know what terms to Google in order to find out about what kind of help the military community might provide?
That won’t be a worry for us if the National Association of Social Workers has anything to say about it. As part of the Joining Forces program started last year by the First Lady and Dr. Biden, the NASW announced at their national convention this week a new commitment to help prepare social workers to have a better understanding of the issues faced by troops, veterans and military families.
“Social workers are the frontline in every county in country,” said NASW Executive Director Betsy Clark in a White House press conference yesterday. “Often we are the only mental health professionals out there.”
That is why the NASW has established a new professional credential specifically aimed at working with military families. The five-course training module was developed by a team of experienced social workers, the Veterans Administration, and the Department of Defense in order to specifically serve the needs of the newest generation of military families. The course is offered free online to members of the NASW.
Although the organization rarely adds a new credential, Clark said that in the case of the military community, the need has driven the credential and a huge number of social workers to take up the challenge.
Clark noted that the military is often a culture unto itself. She said that social workers trying to understand a military family without understanding the context of the military itself would be like trying to be a social worker in India without ever learning anything about India. It can’t be done.
The majority of military families will never need the services of a social worker. Yet knowing that social workers across the country are preparing themselves to catch those military families who are in crisis is a significant step forward.