Social workers discuss helping military families

Amanda Voeller

Social workers took the phrase “we support our troops” to the next level at the Military Social Work Conference, hosted by the UT School of Social Work, where more than 150 behavioral health practitioners and educators gathered Thursday through Saturday.

Social work professor Allen Rubin said he organized the conference after co-editing the “Handbook of Military Social Work” and developing UT’s first military social work course last fall.

One panel on Friday discussed what methods work best in teaching students different treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder and other disorders common in the military and veteran populations.

Participants discussed dealing with issues such as large class sizes, as well as using role-play, evidence-based practices and direct work with military personnel, veterans and their families.

“I’m seeing a change in my students,” Rubin said. “They’re recognizing the sacrifices that are being made by our military personnel and their families, and I’m seeing a lot of movement among our students now toward this field of practice.”

Rubin said because the number of returning veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq will overwhelm the resources of the Department of Veterans Affairs, it is
important to equip civilian social workers and community behavioral health providers with the knowledge needed to work with the military and veteran populations.

“I think it’s a community and societal responsibility,” said Eugenia Weiss, co-editor of “Handbook of Military Social Work.”

The current war is different from others partly because the enemy often uses civilians to carry out acts of terror, leading to more severe psychosocial problems for members of the military, Rubin said.

“Unlike any other war in our history, military families and military personnel are virtually the only people being asked to sacrifice for this war,” Rubin said.

Common stressors for military families include constant relocation and multiple, frequent deployments, Weiss said.

After the military personnel come home, they are hypervigilant because the combat zone offers no clear enemy. This takes several months of readjustment, which is difficult for service members and families, Weiss said.

All social workers, regardless of their area of practice, will encounter clients associated with the military, so it is important to understand the field, said Liz Nowicki, director of professional development.

Rubin said because of these significant needs, the School of Social Work is considering hosting this conference annually.