Military members and families face challenges that many of us can not relate to. They have dedicated service and sacrifice much of their lives to defend the principles of our country. Yet, many endure a mindset of even more extreme battle when they return home. As civilians and citizens of the United States, it is important for us to consider the needs of our service members, especially as they return and work to acclimate to the changes ahead of them. Social Workers can provide many services to help.
How do we provide services?
Ideas for intervention vary among different countries. In the United States, the Red Cross was the first example of military social work in 1918. “The first enlisted army social workers were in 1945” (Daley, 2003, p. 439). In the U.S. services include “family violence prevention and intervention services, substance abuse treatment services, mental health services, medical social work services, combat stress response teams, family support programs, individual and family wellness programs and a myriad of policy consultation positions” (Daley, 2003, p. 439). Carrie also noted that the facility in Binghamton, NY provides Bereavement Counseling, Marital Counseling, and Military Sexual Trauma/Harassment services (Carrie Studgeon).
What is PTSD?
“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur after you have been through a traumatic event. A traumatic event is something terrible and scary that you see, hear about, or that happens to you, like Combat exposure, child sexual or physical abuse, terrorist attack, sexual or physical assault, serious accidents, like a car wreck, natural disasters, like a fire, tornado, hurricane, flood, or earthquake” (VA.gov)
Symptoms of PTSD as listed on The National Center for PTSD Website:
1) Reliving the event (re-experiencing symptoms): Bad memories, nightmares, or flashbacks.
2) Avoiding situations that remind you of event: Avoiding situations that trigger memories and avoiding talking about the event.
3) Negative changes in beliefs and feelings: Fear, shame, guilt or lack of interest in former hobbies.
4) Feeling keyed up called “hyperarousal”: Jittery, always alert. Trouble concentrating or sleeping.
Who is affected?
People of all ages are can receive services from social workers. Veterans and enlisted military members (Active and Reserve) and also family members of service men and women. Families are very important people to consider for services because they help influence the feelings and decisions of their service member. Further, families endure many challenges while their service member is away and social workers can facilitate direction as to how to gain resources and comfort during deployment.
What is it like to be a VA Social Worker?
The VA has the greatest number of social workers with a total of almost 11,000 workers (Presentation 8). Some are civilians, and others are enlisted officers too. At least half of the social workers at a veterans clinic are required to have former military experience (Carrie Studgeon).
VA Social Workers provide services to veterans from many eras of war beginning with World War II through the War or Terrorism.
Carrie shared that working at the VA has been one of her most rewarding positions. Her clients are facing deep darkness from their experiences, but when she is able to see them smile the reward is unmeasurable.
Stories of the Walking Wounded
We read many stories of soldiers and their experiences told in the graphic novel Walking Wounded. This title is intriguing because it represents how on the outside someone may continue their walk appearing normal, yet they walk with memories of trauma and fear. These people walk with wounds that may not also be visible to us all, but social workers can provide support and encouragement to discover these wounds and begin to heal them. Social workers can allow veterans to understand their feelings and encourage normalcy.
Throughout the lessons of this week, I often reflected on the story of Rick Yarosh. Rick graduated from the same High School as me (Windsor, NY) and has spoken at several events about his time serving. I believe he has also visited Binghamton University a few times too. I think about the emotions and trauma that he went through and I reflect on the work that he is doing now. Currently, he travels the country speaking about his experience and giving motivation and hope to his audience members. In a way, he exemplifies characteristics of a social worker by giving strength based motivation to students and military members alike. It is amazing to see him empower others when I know he too has experienced low points in his life. In his story below, he shares about a little girl who said “hello”. He says that it was this moment that really made him feel good. This reminds me of how Connie told us that clients are looking for someone who is human on the other side, someone who can relate and have empathy. If you have not heard Rick’s story before, I am sure you have seen him in the news or online as his picture has traveled the country and now also is on display at a national museum.
- Daley, James G. (2003). Military social work: A multi-country comparison. International Social Work, 46(4), 437-448.