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Social Workers Link Veterans to a Range of Services

Social Workers Link Veterans to a Range of Services

Wendy J. Meyeroff, Monster Contributing Writer

How do you help a 27-year-old reservist — a carpenter in civilian life — find a new career when he’s lost an arm in Iraq? What services can help the World War II vet whose retirement check doesn’t stretch far enough?

It takes a vast array of knowledge and skills to answer such questions. The social workers who serve the nation’s 23.6 million veterans provide this help every day.

More on Social Work

Salary: $32,590 - $48,420
Min. Education: Master's
Related Careers: Psychologist, Rehabilitation Counselor

Spotlighting the VA

For social workers seeking to work with veterans, the obvious starting point is the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA is the country’s largest employer of those who hold master’s degrees in social work (MSWs), says Jill Manske, MSW, director of social work service in the VA’s central office in Washington, DC.

Veterans’ mental health issues — such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — are a major focus of the 4,000 social workers under Manske’s direction. But VA social workers also help vets navigate government bureaucracies like Medicare and Medicaid and provide referrals to legal, financial, housing and vocational resources.

Veterans’ expectations often depend on their age, says Manske. “Today, they want a prosthetic leg that lets them play basketball,” she says. Inevitably, though, when servicemen become disabled, their first question is how soon they can get back to their unit. After a doctor has explained why they cannot return to active duty, the social worker picks up the pieces. That means helping servicemen cope with their anger and feelings that they’ve abandoned their comrades, and then helping them find different vocational opportunities, Manske explains.

Older veterans treated by the VA tend to have more complex medical problems. Many have no health insurance, so the VA is their only resource. Social workers can move into clinical areas, like oncology, where Manske says they “might help [veterans] find equipment they need and locate support groups for them.”

VA employment offers excellent benefits, including competitive pay and opportunities for promotions and transfers nationwide. Recent VA listings for social workers included openings for:

• A licensed clinical social worker at the VA Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky. Salary range: $54,494 to $70,843.
• An admissions coordinator for the Women’s Trauma Recovery Program at the VA Medical Center in Menlo Park, California. Salary range: $63,811 to $99,431.
• A social worker for the Health Care for Homeless Vets program at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System in Michigan. Salary range: $58,996 to $76,695.

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