By Ben Sherman, Fort Sill CannoneerFebruary 27, 2014
FORT SILL, Okla. (Feb. 27, 2014) -- Social workers play a vital role in the military. However, not everyone understands that role in the various areas in which social workers serve. At Fort Sill there are dozens of social workers who help Soldiers and their families cope with the everyday world of Army life.
In recognition of March being National Social Worker Month, with the theme "All People Matter," the Cannoneer newspaper staff recently sat down with two of Fort Sill's social workers to discuss the scope of their work.
Kevin Bell is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) who works with Soldiers in the Warrior Transition Unit. Bell has been at the Fort Sill Warrior Transition Unit for three years, and has been a social worker in the military for 28 years.
Lucia Aleman, also a LCSW, has been a medical social worker at Reynolds Army Community Hospital for 13 years and a social worker for 22 years.
Cannoneer: With the social worker month theme of "All People Matter," how is that reflected in the work that social workers at Fort Sill do for Soldiers and their families?
Bell: "There is a thing called 'cultural competency,' which means learning about a culture and being able to operate in that culture. The military is a culture. The people who wear the uniforms, who have deployed, can talk the same language and understand the things that military folks do have a unique advantage in dealing with the people we deal with."
Aleman: "It takes the uniqueness of the social work profession to be able to understand that. The graduate training that we have as LCSW's specifically equips us to look at vulnerable population groups who are disadvantaged, and to see the potential for change in an individual. The Army makes it a point to hire licensed clinical social workers (who) understand social work in different roles, such as clinical counseling and treatments."
Bell: "For instance, one of the things that WTU Soldiers say is 'I can talk to you because you were in the military.' You have to understand what the culture is. The more that you can connect with Soldiers where they are, the better opportunity you have to bring them where they need to be."
Cannoneer: How long does it take to become a LCSW? Is it more involved than just a regular social worker?
Bell: "It takes time to become a LCSW -- four years undergraduate studies and at least two years graduate work. Then you have three years of training for your clinical license and then, if you specialize in a discipline, such as drug and alcohol counseling, you have an additional three years."
Aleman: "Having licensed social workers in the military is critical, because we have young Soldiers who come into the Army with families and children, and they have complex issues. Our job as social workers is to make sure these individuals have resources they can depend on."
Cannoneer: How many social workers are there at Fort Sill, and what are their areas of work?
Aleman: "We have social workers at the Traumatic Brain Injury clinic, Behavioral Health, Army Substance Abuse Program, Family Advocacy Program, Army Community Services, the WTU, Reynolds Army Community Hospital and many other places. At RACH alone there are over 28 social workers."
Cannoneer: How do social workers help Soldiers and their families deal with the decades of war that our military personnel have faced?
Bell: "One of the greatest challenges we see is Soldiers who still have a deployed mindset in a garrison environment. They cannot wind down. When the adrenaline is high, they seek it out just like a drug. They will go and run themselves ragged. The real challenge is convincing them that they can wind down in a garrison environment and still have fun, but not risk hurting themselves."
Cannoneer: How do the Soldiers respond to coming home after deployment, especially the wounded warriors?
Bell: "Many Soldiers say, 'I was so much happier when I was deployed. Things were simpler; I was a valued Soldier. I just had to do this this, this and this. Now, I'm back here and I sit around and go to medical appointments, and I don't like it.' A lot of times they are just focused on what is right in front of them and they can't see beyond that."
Cannoneer: So what happens to the families when the Soldiers come home?
Aleman: "We are seeing the emotional and psychological war wounds surfacing in the families, now that many Soldiers have come back home. That population group cannot be left unattended."
Bell: "As the wars are winding down, we at the WTU have found that the complexities of wounds and issues aren't going away. There is still a critical need to care for the wounded Soldiers -- physically, psychologically and socially. Soldiers who have issues right now need to take advantage of the resources that are available, because they may not be here years from now."
Aleman: "That's a good point. If there are Soldiers and family members out there, either living on post or out in the community who need help with issues they have, they need to seek help while they can still access the available resources."
Cannoneer: How are the children of Soldiers coping with their parents being deployed?
Aleman: "We have observed a great many situations in the families of Soldiers where children are having issues. I call them the 'children of war' because, even though they don't experience battle where they live, they face the stresses of one or both parents who have served in combat. It really takes the total community to take care of these kids when mom or dad is deployed."
Cannoneer: In closing, what should our readers remember about social workers, and the efforts to bring more people into this profession?
Bell: "People may think that the wars are over, but it will be a long time before those who fought in these wars are close to being healed. Most of our social workers are an aging group. We can't recruit and train licensed social workers fast enough to fill the gaps that are being created by those who have been doing this for decades and are now beginning to retire.
Aleman: "The National Association of Social Workers is making a very strong effort to encourage people to choose this as a profession. In the future, it will become harder and harder to hire the social workers that are needed. We really need to move forward."