The Career Of A Military Social Worker

There are two general types of social workers: clinical social workers, who diagnose and treat behavioral, mental, and emotional issues and direct-service social workers who help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives, and a military social worker basically crosses both types.

The United States Army employs thousands of individuals as counselors, psychologists, social workers, and various other social assistance staff members. A military social worker works with active military personnel, veterans and military families. A bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work or a related field is required for most of these positions.

Requirements To Become A Military Social Worker

The military employs one of the largest workforces in the United States, and these individuals are constantly put into highly dangerous and stressful situations by the nature of their employment. This often requires the services of a military social worker, who need to have a high degree of education and experience in counseling, as counseling the armed forces requires utmost professionalism.


In order to qualify for Active Duty employment as a Social Worker in the military, you must meet the following basic requirements:Military Social Worker

  • You must be a U.S. citizen currently practicing in the U.S.
  • You must have a Master of social work (MSW) from a graduate school of social work accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
  • You must be in possession of current licensure/certification as a clinical social worker by the jurisdiction where you will be practicing; licensure/certification must allow the social worker to practice independently.
  • You must be willing to serve a minimum of three years of Active Duty.
  • You must be between the ages of 18 and 41.
  • You must be in good physical condition and will be expected to pass a full medical examination.

You may also have to meet certain preferred requirements:

• Experience in mental health (inpatient and outpatient) with knowledge and skills in: diagnosis, evaluation and treatment; family violence, including child and spousal abuse; case management, medical social work, and discharge planning; and developmental delays in children
• Knowledge, skill and ease in working with diverse populations from different cultural backgrounds
• Supervisory program management or other leadership experience

Education and licensing requirements:

The level of services a military social worker must perform require very specific education and licensing requirements:

Master’s Degree

A Master’s Degree with experience in clinical practice, from an education program that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, is the minimum requirement for a military social worker. This is to ensure that the social worker is eminently qualified and able to efficiently and effectively deal with the various types of situations that could arise when counseling soldiers.

Unrestricted License In Social Work

In order to work as a military social worker an individual must be in possession of an unrestricted state license in social work. This requirement ensures that the individual has met all minimal requirements and has the skill-set required in order to work in an environment such as the military. A state licence can be acquired by an individual who is at least 21 years of age, has a master’s degree with at least 12 semester-hours of clinical coursework, is of good moral character, has three years’ experience of supervised diagnosis-based treatment planning, meets exam requirements and has completed all coursework.

Doctoral Level

Individuals who possess a doctorate-level degree will have a specific area of expertise within their field of social work, and are very welcome in the military, where they will be appointed at the rank of Captain. They will be utilized to supervise various counseling options for military officers with specific clinical needs.

Duties Of A Military Social Worker

The precise duties that a military social worker performs will depend on in which department of the armed forces they are employed. There are specialist programs, drug abuse problems, domestic problems, and many other issues that need to be attended to and the military social worker job description requires social workers to utilize their entire range of training to work with individuals, families and groups.

Working as a clinical professional in the Armed Forces will afford you the opportunity of working with individuals on a one-on-one basis and in group settings. The position of the military social worker is one that is growing very fast due to the need for this kind of help for the enlisted members and their dependents. These individuals not only face the same life situations as individuals in civilian life, but they also face long separations which can lead to intense stress and heightened emotional circumstances.

As a social work officer, you will work in collaboration with other health care professionals to deliver professional social work services in a military environment, to support the efficiency, morale and mental health of the military personnel. Military personnel deal with normal stresses everyone deals with, but also have the added stress of frequent moves and separations as a result of service requirements. These additional stresses give rise to social and family circumstances that require complex social work interventions.

General duties that you will perform may include:

  • Assisting military officers who are responsible for personnel career matters by investigating and reporting on compassionate situations that the personnel may be facing
  • Assisting to resolve compassionate situations that members are faced with to prevent career action being implemented
  • Conducting awareness workshops and lead conflict resolution training
  • Consulting with and advising Commanding Officers, Commandants, and supervisors on the social circumstances that personnel in their units may be facing
  • Providing clinical intervention services directly to Armed Forces members and their family members
  • Delivering preventive and rehabilitative programs in the areas of:
    • Family/Domestic violence
    • Pre- and post-deployment stress
    • Suicide intervention
    • Working as part of a team that includes Occupational and Physical Therapists, Developmental Pediatricians, and other professionals in the military

Where Do Military Social Workers Work?

Military and civilian Social Workers (SWs) can be found in multiple settings, and work in the entire spectrum of administrative, clinical, and research SW skills. Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW/equivalent) serve as officers, both as full-time employees in the Active Component (AC) and as part-time members in the Reserve Components. Many of the military’s Behavioral Health team consists of civilian and contract LCSWs, who are highly valued members of the BH team.

Select Clinical Practice Areas

  • Army Family Advocacy Program (FAP): Providing domestic abuse assessments and treatment to Solders and their Families.
  • Army Substance Abuse Program (ASAP): Assessing and treating substance abuse of Soldiers (advanced substance abuse credentials are required).
  • Behavioral Health (BH) Care: Performing BH treatment both in clinics and in-patient settings for Soldiers and Family members.
  • Combat Operational Stress Control Detachments and Brigade Combat Teams: Working on the battlefield and on installations to address stress related issues and brief counseling needs.
  • Exceptional Family Member Program Clinics (EFMP): Working with special needs children and their Families.
  • Medical Social Work in Military Hospitals: Addressing adjustment to illness issues and coordinating discharge planning needs.
  • Patient Centered Medical Home and Community Based Medical Home: providing short-term therapy for Soldiers and Family Members.
  • Warrior Transition Units (WTU): Working with Wounded, Ill and Injured Soldiers, known as Warriors in Transition (WT), and their Families, to address the WTs level of risk, behavioral healthcare needs, adjustment to illness, and reintegration to Army or civilian life.

Select Administrative/Research/Command Practice Areas

Military Social Workers (MSWs) establish Army-wide BH policies and address the administration of BH practices at the U.S. Army Medical Command. MSWs are also involved in establishing policies and managing programs that address Family and Soldier support needs at the Army’s Installation Management Command.

There are many research opportunities offered in the military, at the U.S. Army Public Health Command, the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, and the Uniformed University of the Health Sciences.

Training/Continuing Education

The U.S. Army Medical Department (AMEDD) Center and School and the Fayetteville State University established a partnership in 2008 through which they offer an accelerated Masters of Social Work degree. Army officers, enlisted Soldiers and Army civilians are eligible to apply for admission to this highly competitive program, and further information can be found at

Other training/continuing education offered:

  • Continuing Education (CE) Courses and Conferences: Both Active and Reserve component Social Workers, as well as Army civilian SW employees are eligible to participate in numerous military and civilian Continuing Education programs as party of their service, and the courses will be paid for by the military.
  • Long Term Health Education Training (LTHET): An Active Component military social worker may be competitively selected to attend any public university of their choice to complete a Ph.D. in SW in a duty (paid) status.
  • Incentives: Civilian social workers that have been specifically recruited for positions in remote locations are eligible for recruiting incentive bonuses and relocation bonuses. Active Component Social Workers can also qualify for professional pay after obtaining the BCD certification.
  • Ph.D. / Doctorate of SW Opportunities: Walter Reed Army Medical Center competitively offers an advanced Clinical Practice Fellowship in Child & Family Practice competitively to Active Component (AC) social workers.
  • Webinars: There are numerous CE courses offered via the Internet; many of them in conjunction with the Veterans Health Administration and Navy and Air Force colleagues.

Social Work Internship Program (SWIP)

The Social Work Internship Program (SWIP) is an educational bridge between the Master of Social Work (MSW) program at the U.S. Army Medical Department (AMEDD) Center and School and independent social work practice. This is a formal training program and its mission is to provide the social work intern with structured supervision as they transition from their role as a student to independent provider. It gives the unlicensed active duty social worker a chance to practice within the social work field and allows them to go from theory to practice in a supervised setting.

SWIP helps interns to refine and reinforce the concepts they learned during their MSW program at the AMEDD Center and School, thereby benefitting from learning about social work and military culture while also fostering growth and development in pursuit of independent licensure.

SWIP is held at various Army Medical Treatment Facilities and takes two years to complete. During these two years, the intern will be rotated through a variety of behavioral health practice areas under a site-specific supervisor.

These key practice areas can include:

  • Combat Operational Stress Control
  • Family Advocacy Program (FAP
  • Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)
  • Marriage and Family
  • Medical Social Work
  • Mental/Behavioral Health
  • Social Work Administration/Career Development

Upon completion of the SWIP, interns will display competency in the above-mentioned areas of practice and thereby fulfil the requirements to practice independently in any state of their choice.

The salary range of the military social worker differs according to qualifications, experience, the branch of the military and various other circumstances, but these can be accessed by contacting the particular branch of the armed forces in which you wish to work as a social worker.

Those in behavioral sciences in the military include clinical psychologists, behavioral sciences social workers, family program directors and suicide prevention managers, who maintain, replenish and strengthen the well-being and functioning of soldiers, their dependents and units within the military community. They often work together to conduct research which is utilized to deal with combat stress, substance abuse, and family advocacy.

Military social workers counsel individually or in groups, in which they gather people together with similar problems, such as those who have just returned from a particularly stressful combat situation and require debriefing and distressing. The SW’s duties may also include suicide prevention, together with the help and input of behavior health staff, chaplains, health promotion officers, commanders and union representatives. Although the work of a military social worker can be stressful, it is one of the most satisfying jobs within both careers, as it services the lives of those that protect us all in this country.

Leave a Reply