What It’s Like to Help Disabled Veterans as a Veterans Health Administration Social Worker

January 12, 2009 at 4:57 pm  •  Posted in Veterans Affairs by  •  0 Comments

By Jennifer Henius, MSW, MSW

Help Starts Here With Your VHA Social Worker
VHA Social Workers Provide Professional Services
VHA Social Workers Make a Difference
VHA Social Work: A Call to Serve


“To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan” were the words spoken by President Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address that serve as the foundation for the primary mission of the Department of Veteran Affairs (“Mission, Vision, Core Values & Goals”, 1996). They are a reminder of our government’s privileged responsibility to provide the highest quality medical and psychosocial care for our nation’s veterans and their families.

Today, the Veteran’s Health Administration (VHA) is the largest integrated healthcare system in the nation and serves as the largest single employer of master’s prepared social workers (“VHA Programs & Organizations”, 1996 & “Social Work Awards”, 2006). VA social workers proudly serve veterans in every veteran hospital, community based clinic and vet center. “The mission of  Social Work is to eliminate psychosocial complications as significant barriers to healthcare interventions for veterans and families. This is accomplished by developing and maintaining integrated quality programs in patient care, research, education and prevention.” (“VA Social Work Mission, Vision and Values”, 2006).

Quality health care is one of the major benefits among many made available to our nation’s heroes through the Department of Veteran Affairs. According to VHA eligibility guidelines, any honorably discharged armed services member is potentially eligible for VA health care. A standard medical benefits package is accessible to all veterans who enroll to include preventative care, outpatient diagnostics and treatment services, in-patient diagnostics and treatment services, as well as medications and medical supplies. Although there is no monthly premium required for VA health care services, veterans are subject to a co- pay.  However, depending on their unique eligibility and income level many veterans are eligible to receive cost-free medical care. The VA utilizes a priority system to ensure veterans with service connected disabilities and those with low income are able to enroll and receive medical attention (“VA Health Care Eligibility”, 2006).

Help Starts Here With Your VHA Social Worker

Every veteran who receives his or her care through a VHA facility is assigned to a primary care team that typically includes a physician or physician assistant, a registered nurse, a pharmacist and a social worker. Social workers play a critical role as interdisciplinary treatment team members in the delivery of clinical services to disabled veterans. VA social workers assist in the identification and treatment of the complex needs and problems faced by disabled veterans and their families. As noted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, eligible disabled veterans have access to a wide-ranging variety of specialty care services including state-of-the-art treatment and services for spinal cord injury, blind rehabilitation, chronic mental illness, traumatic brain injury, amputations, brain dysfunction, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance abuse treatment programs as well as geriatric medicine and hospice care (“Delivering on the Promise”, 2002). Social workers are often the gatekeepers to these specialty programs through education and referrals.

VHA Social Workers Provide Professional Services

Social workers also serve outside of primary care specializing in various treatment areas such as oncology, military sexual trauma, substance abuse, psychosocial rehabilitation, and other specialties. Medical social work interventions are largely focused on helping patients and their families to achieve more adequate, satisfying and productive emotional and social functioning as it relates to their medical problems. Social workers treat and counsel patients to cope with acute illness, chronic illness, mental illness, disabilities, community placements, addictions, home care, homelessness, and transitional adjustment periods among varying levels of care. Social workers coordinate VA and non-VA resources to ensure that veterans have access and choice among programs and services. Social workers provide professional clinical services to disabled veterans across all patient settings and ensure continuity of care.

Social workers strive to provide “Seamless Transition” services to eligible returning veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom by providing education, resources and case management services to assist with the transition to civilian life and to ensure medical and mental health care services are made available to them in a timely manner. Social workers seek to educate and empower all enrolled disabled veterans and their family members so that they can make informed choices about their medical care and the many benefits available to them. Social workers build trusting relationships with their patients and often serve as liaisons between the VHA facility and outside community agencies by advocating for supportive programming with the least restrictive measures to maximize the veteran’s independence.

VHA Social Workers Make a Difference

VHA social workers can be found assisting veterans and their families in and outside of the VA in their communities. Many VHA social workers have received disaster relief training by agencies such as the American Red Cross and voluntarily deploy to serve as first responders to local and national crises such as the Oklahoma City bombing, September 11th, and Hurricane Katrina (Manske, 2006). Some VHA social workers serve as adjunct professors at universities, several have written professional articles and authored books and many volunteer for community agencies such as the United Way of America or Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Many social workers serve on professional boards and community agency councils. Moreover, some VHA social workers are veterans themselves or actively serve in the military reserves.

VHA Social Work: A Call to Serve

VHA social workers have the opportunity to obtain clinical licensure supervision, mentor social work students, participate in national social work committees, attend leadership trainings, conduct clinical research, and attend national educational trainings. There are also national mobility and executive career advancement opportunities. Competitive salary and excellent benefits are also provided to attract graduate prepared and experienced social work clinicians. Above all, VHA provides social workers with the distinct opportunity of public service.

Social work as a profession is founded on a unique set of core values that guide the practice today for more than 100 years: social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity and competence (2002, NASW Inc.) Everyday more than 4,400 competent and compassionate VHA social workers strive to provide hope, help and opportunities for change and healing to the brave men, women and their families of the armed services. VHA social workers are truly “The Human Touch in Healthcare”.


Department of Veteran Affairs. (February, 1996). Mission, Vision, Core Values & Goals.
Retrieved May 8, 2006, from http://www.va.gov/about_va/mission.asp

Department of Veteran Affairs. (March, 2006). Social Work Awards.
Retrieved May 8, 2006, from http://www1.va.gov/socialwork/page.cfm?pg=11

Department of Veteran Affairs. (April, 2006). VA Health Care Eligibility.
Retrieved May 8, 2006 from http://www.va.gov/healtheligibility/HECHome.htm

Department of Veteran Affairs. (March, 2006). VA Social Work Mission, Vision and Values.
Retrieved May 8th 2006 from http://www1.va.gov/socialwork/page.cfm?pg=1

Department of Veteran Affairs. (April, 2006). VHA Programs & Organizations. Retrieved May 8th 2006 from http://www1.va.gov/health/gateway.html

Manske, Jill (2006, January). Social Workers Meeting the Challenge. (Synergy).
The Power of Social Work. (2002). National Association of Social Workers Inc

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (April, 2002). Delivering on the Promise.
Retrieved May 8, 2006 from http://www.hhs.gov/newfreedom/final/vavha.html


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