WASHINGTON, July 25, 2012 -- Social workers today became the latest field of professionals to sign on to help service members, veterans and their families in a broad effort as part of the White House's "Joining Forces" campaign.

Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, made the announcement in a speech here at the annual convention of the National Association of Social Workers. Biden started Joining Forces with First Lady Michelle Obama last year to mobilize all sectors of American society to support the military community.

"We have asked a lot of our military since Sept. 11, 2001," Biden, whose daughter is a social worker, told the audience. "They -- and their families -- have responded to the need for more frequent and longer deployments. As they have done in the past, our troops and their families have answered the call with no complaint.

"But they shoulder a tremendous burden," Biden said.

She added that one Marine Corps wife recently told her, "People have no idea what 10 years of war will do to a family. All my kids have ever known is war."

"For the 1.3 million Americans who have fought in Iraq or Afghanistan, some of the toughest challenges don't come on the battlefield," Biden said. "They come months -- even years -- after they come home."

Biden told of servicemen and women who are highly skilled on the battlefield, but who struggle to translate their skills to civilian education or job applications; who can communicate with Afghan tribal leaders, but not their own families; and whose lasting emotional reactions to war "are natural, human responses" that challenge relationships.

"They are not a sign of weakness, … and they should never be a source of shame or stigma," she said. "But they are very real, and left untreated, can have drastic consequences."

Still, only about half of the nation's veterans seek care through the Veterans Affairs Department, instead relying on civilian providers in their communities, Biden said. "That is why all of you are so important to making sure these heroes don't fall through the cracks," she said.

Social workers are "uniquely positioned" to reach service members, veterans and their families "because all of you are exactly where they are -- in every single county in the nation," she said.

Similar to agreements doctors' and nurses' associations have made with Joining Forces, the NASW, which represents more than 650,000 social workers, has pledged support beginning this fall, including:

-- Launching a free, online training course for all social workers so they can better understand the unique needs of veterans and military families that will count toward continuing education requirements for practitioners;

-- Offering a professional Credential for Social Work with Veterans and Military Families for social workers who work primarily with service members and military families; and

-- Providing a set of standards for working with veterans and military families.

In a conference call with reporters yesterday, NASW Director Elizabeth Clark said the association will work to train social workers in issues common to veterans and military families, including deployment stress, post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries, unemployment, suicide, homelessness, and those specific to female veterans.

Of about 1,000 social workers who attended the conference, 200 already are specialized in military family issues, she said.