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The nation's social workers soon will be able to access courses or earn professional credentials to counsel troops, their families and veterans under a White House-led initiative to improve mental health services for the military and veteran communities.
Addressing a conference of the National Association of Social Workers on Wednesday, Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, unveiled a new agreement between the White House's Joining Forces initiative and the association.
Under the agreement, more than 650,000 social workers will be trained on military culture and service members' and veterans' behavioral health concerns, from combat-related stress, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder to family separation, substance abuse and homelessness.
Because social workers often are the first counselors seen by veterans and military families, they are "uniquely positioned to help reach our troops, veterans and military families exactly where they are, in every single county in America," said Biden, co-founder of Joining Forces with First Lady Michelle Obama.
"Our veterans and military families are among the most resilient men and women I have ever met, and I am always inspired by them. But they have shouldered a tremendous burden, and for those who need some additional support, we need to be ready to help," Biden said.
Under the agreement, NASW will offer a free online training course on military culture, advocacy, practice and professional standards, a professional credential for social work with veterans and military families, and standards of practice for helping this group.
"By the time they get licensed as clinical social workers, they are expert clinicians, but there are differences with the veterans today than previous veterans, and we always look at what we call the ‘person in the environment,' looking at not just the psychological issues but the social issues, the multiple problems someone has," NASW CEO Elizabeth Clark said. "This is a fascinating way to help our social workers across the country work with doctors and nurses to be sure veterans and their families are getting total care."
The agreement is similar to previous commitments between the country's nurses and nursing schools, physicians and medical schools and Joining Forces, a campaign to raise awareness of the needs of the military community launched in April 2011.
Under those initiatives, nurses, caregivers, medical schools and nursing organizations have agreed to institute coursework and professional education opportunities to accommodate the needs of the military community, as well as conduct research that will benefit this group as well as the country as a whole.
NASW will begin rolling out its programs in the fall.