On August 31, 2012, President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order with the goal of “Improving Access to Mental Health Services for Veterans, Service Members, and Military Families.”
Since then the Department of Defense (DoD), Veterans Affairs (VA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have made and continue to make strides in expanding mental health care to military personnel, their loved ones and veterans.
According to a 2008 Rand Corporation report:
- Around 1.64 U.S. troops were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan from October 2001 on.
- Out of these service members who returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, 18.5% were diagnosed with PTSD and 19.5% experienced a traumatic brain injury during their time of service.
A growing emphasis has been made on such efforts as increasing VA mental health staff, working with mental health providers in the community and other initiatives such as suicide prevention and increasing relevant research.
Military and veteran counselors may be hired on by DoD or VA branches/facilities; they also may work for community-based organizations and facilities.
With increasing awareness surrounding mental health concerns related to military service, this is an excellent time to look into a career as a military/veteran counselor.
Military/Veteran Counselors At a Glance
- Degree Level Requirements: Bachelor’s to Master’s Degree, depending on position
- Licensure Requirements: License is required for certain positions.
- Specializations: Depression, PTSD, Addictions, Relationships, Recovering from Trauma, Deployment, Suicide Prevention, Transitioning to Civilian Life…
- Median Annual Salaries: Careers with the DoD (Department of Defense) and the VA (Veterans Affairs), salary is dependent on grade level.
- Job Outlook:The DoD, VA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have been taking the initiative to follow President Obama’s “Executive Order to Improve Access to Mental Health Services for Veterans, Service Members, and their families,” states a DoD Press Release from May 2013. (Hiring mental health professionals for Veterans is especially a focus).
(For information on mean annual salaries and job outlook for counselors overall across the U.S., visit: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/home.htm).
Career & Job Description
Military and veteran counselors may work directly for DoD/military or VA facilities and generally these positions are open to both enlisted, prior military and civilian individuals. Also counselors specialized in treating military and veteran personnel may work in the community, such as for an outpatient clinic, counseling center, non-profit organization or private practice.
There are numerous relevant positions that fall under military/veteran counselor roles including “Clinical Counselor,” “Readjustment Counselor,” “Marriage & Family Therapist,” “Addictions Counselor,” “Mental Health Counselor” and more.
Since the Veterans Crisis Line was launched in 2007, as of 2013, it has received more than 890,000 calls (as well as over 118,000 chats and texts) and has helped saved over 30,000 veterans’ lives.
Some general, overall duties of a counselor working with military and veteran clients include:
- Provide individual, family, marriage and/or group counseling and therapy.
- Perform mental health screenings/evaluations.
- Perform risk assessments and crisis intervention.
- Work with other clinical and mental health staff to development and deliver treatment plans.
- Connect/refer clients to other necessary services.
- Counselors may help clients with emotional/mental health concerns, substance abuse issues, employment coaching, access to Veterans benefits…
- Depending on training, counselors may employ such modalities as relaxation techniques, cognitive-behavioral therapy, biofeedback therapy and more.
- Develop and deliver outreach, educational and advocacy programs.
- Update client files and perform other administrative duties.
Specializations / Concentrations
Depending on military or veteran counselors’ roles and positions (as well as training and experience) they may develop or delve into such specialties as:
- Military deployment
- Families and children
- Bereavement (i.e. losing a loved one who died while on active duty)
- Sexual Trauma
- Domestic Violence
- Readjustment to Post-deployment
- Anger Management
- Behavioral Problems
- Emotional Problems
- General Psychological/Mental Health
- Substance Abuse
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Suicide Prevention
- And More
Explore Your Career Path
The Educational Journey
Most military and veteran counseling positions require a Master’s degree. However certain positions (such as a Rehabilitation Therapist or Addictions Therapist) may only require a Bachelor’s degree. If you would like to become a professional/licensed counselor, you may wish to gain some valuable career experience before going on to pursue your Master’s degree.
- Bachelor’s Degree: Relevant undergraduate degrees include a Bachelor in Psychology, Human Services, Social Work or another related behavioral/social science discipline.
- Relevant Careers with a Bachelor’s Degree: Addiction Therapist, Rehabilitation Counseling Therapist, Research Assistant, Psychiatric Technician, Child Life Specialist, Family or Youth Shelter Case Manager, Family Services Worker, Crisis Center Worker, etc. (Note some positions may require specific experience, coursework or licensure/certification). You may also consider enlisting in the military to pursue entry level mental health positions.
- Master’s Degree: Relevant graduate degrees include a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling, Counseling Psychology, Clinical Psychology, Social Work or Marriage & Family Therapy.
Certain counseling positions with the military or VA may not require licensure (particularly those entry-level positions that only require a Bachelor’s degree).
However there are numerous positions that specifically require licensed professionals, such as LPCs (Licensed Professional Counselors), LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists) and LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Counselors). Also generally speaking, counselors practicing for community and government organizations, and private practice, must be licensed. (Licensure acronyms and requirements vary from state to state.)
Note: Pertaining specifically to DoD and the military health system, there is currently a transition period on requirements for “certified mental health counselors” (CMHCs) which is expected to become effective January 2015.
When familiarizing yourself with military/veteran mental health services (i.e. potential employers), a great resource is the Rand Corporation’s “Catalog of Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Programs.”
The catalog comprises 211 programs that offer psychological health and traumatic brain injury services. You can look up programs based on specialty, focus and DoD/VA branches.
The catalog can be found at: http://smapp.rand.org/multi/military/innovative-practices/catalog/
- References & Sources: