We are living in extreme times. Our national political situation is a revolving door of back-to-back negative policies/laws/tweets/changes affecting hundreds of thousands of people who already call or want to make America their home. Nature unleashes its fury across the world in the form of deadly hurricanes, damaging tornadoes, terrible flooding, and earthquakes leaving thousands homeless and whole townsdestroyed. Although our country has recently experienced more divisiveness than usual, we can all agree on the need to come together, regardless of politics, as the American Family when faced with the growing list of natural disasters and the plight of our fellow citizens.

Lt. Lucia Leo-Diaz, BCD, LCSW, and her team providing field assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

The need for our professional services as clinical social workers has never been greater. My personal experience was through a deployment with the Texas State Guard, where I’m a member of a medical team with a clinical social worker, two medical providers, an emergency medical technician, and a nurse. Our mission was to assist the National Guardwith their de-mobilization of the soldiers after the post-Hurricane Harvey emergency, and my specific role was to address behavioral health issues identified by the Guard members and provide either crisis intervention and/or referrals to services as appropriate.

Although my initial preference was to work at an emergency shelter, my military orders indicated otherwise, evidently based on shelter services being provided by local Veterans Administration clinics, the Red Cross,and other mental health facilities. My deployment was only for a week. I’m grateful to have served: although we may not always get to choose “where or when”, we DO have the power to educate and to foster awareness and self-advocacy, utilizing our professional skills and judgment, and to promote the dignity, self-worth, and self-determination of every individual that we work with. And, as a result, the State Guard now recognizes clinical social workers as an integral part of the medical team needed for demobilization of troops. During my own demobilization, I was assured that our team’s service was such that we will be used as an example in future trainings!

How have you responded to recent disasters? Have you applied (or considered applying) your clinical skills to help those affected? Clinical social workers are uniquely able to work in teams and in crisis situations. Let’s talk about it!

1st Lt. Lucia Leo-Diaz, BCD, LCSW, Clinical Supervisor, VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System, member of the national board of directors of the Center for Clinical Social Work. 
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