ACSWA has a strong commitment to VA clinical social workers, many of whom are currently responding to an ACSWA questionnaire. Their answers point the way toward reforms, just as MITRE Corp. takes over the role of investigator of problems and recommender of solutions that will create a more effective agency.
Recently reporting VA clinical social workers all say that they have multiple duties; but fewer than half are allowed to provide actual psychotherapy to veterans, despite their education and training. About 25% are in positions providing non-clinical administrative services. Of the various work assignments (again, multiple duties), “mental health” is indicated by 60%, “homeless outreach” by 26%, 26% in “PTSD outpatient”, and 41% in other categories such as HUD-VASH, home care, SUD (substance use disorders), mental health integration into primary care, and military sexual trauma.
It continues to be the case that nearly half cannot describe the process for participating in the Special Advancement for Achievement “professional pay” program that was passed by Congress several years ago and that is, by federal law, supposed to be made available to eligible clinical social workers. Very few report that the union has ever helped them or other clinical social workers.
Only 18% report that the person in charge of Mental Health at their site is a clinical social worker, while 48% report that psychiatrists run things and 29% say that psychologists do.
Many gave answers as to how they might be enabled to do their jobs better. The most popular answer is for their site to hire more “qualified mental health providers” (clinical social workers) and to “allow them to do mental health, not social work.” Others call for “removing racist management from Social Work Services” and for changing their site from being a “nursing facility to a real medical center with a variety of clinical professionals allowed to practice.” Another made a plea for more opportunities to do clinical work, especially in light of their having only one office for ten clinicians, thereby preventing the practice of confidential therapy.
Others reported the need for more training, better access to mental healthcare information, better resources for veterans’ housing, staffing of programs by committed professionals rather than by “borrowing” staff from other programs, and the option of filing paperwork from home so that they can do more clinical practice on-site.
We continue to believe that there is much food for thought in these answers. Clinical social workers are ideally suited to provide crucial clinical services within the VA, and some of them are allowed to do so. A larger number, however, report that there are better ways to use their clinical capabilities. We at ACSWA will continue to give voice to their thoughts, experiences, and constructive suggestions.
Any VA clinical social worker who is looking to participate in our on-going, confidential questionnaire can do so by clicking here.