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Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center


Social workers stand up for Veterans

VA Social Worker Pat Ramey educates a fellow employee on some of the long-term care options available for Veteran patients at Charleston VAMC.

VA Social Worker Pat Ramey educates a fellow employee on some of the long-term care options available for Veteran patients at Charleston VAMC. Photo by James Arrowood.

By Elizabeth "Gail" Varley, ACSW, LCSW, C-SWHC, PACT Social Worker
Monday, March 20, 2017

March is Social Work Month and is celebrated by the more than 600,000 professional social workers across the country. The National Association of Social Worker’s theme for this year, STAND UP, reflects what social workers do each day – stand up for others. Social workers help to create solutions to some of the most difficult challenges faced by individuals, families, groups and communities.  

Since 1926, when the first social service programs were established for Veterans, VA social workers have been standing up for Veterans and their caregivers and families. Today there are over 12,000 professional social workers and more than 1,500 master’s level student interns working for the Veterans Administration in its programs and facilities across the country. More than 120 of these social workers and social work students serve Veterans and Veteran families at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center.

The mission of VA Social Work is “to maximize health and well-being, through the use of psychosocial interventions for Veterans, families and caregivers.” Some examples of how social workers “Stand Up” for others are:

  • A couple is struggling with issues of domestic violence – a VA mental health social worker can help.
  • A 95-year-old WWII Veteran can no longer be cared for in their home. The family is seeking long-term care options – call your PACT social worker for assistance.
  • A family is having difficulty getting their bedbound Veteran family member to her medical appointments – the Home Based Primary Care social worker and team may be able to find ways to care for the Veteran in her home.
  • A Veteran expresses his desire to enter substance abuse treatment – an SATC social worker can offer support and guidance.
  • A combat Veteran, just discharged from active duty, is struggling to find his way through the VA system – the Transition Care Manager (previously OEF/OIF/OND) will be happy to offer information and referral, and if needed, case management services.
  • The Veteran is being released from jail and needs guidance – the Veterans Justice Outreach social worker can help find answers.
  • Your patient needs to begin dialysis treatments – the dialysis social worker can help coordinate care.
  • A Veteran comes to the emergency room. He and his family are in crisis. The Veteran is being admitted for care and treatment – the ER and inpatient social workers are there to provide comfort and support to the family and to work with the medical team to plan the patient’s discharge.
  • You are working with a post-9/11 Veteran who needs a full-time caregiver to help with basic self-care tasks (and other complex lifestyle skills needed to live independently due to a traumatic brain injury (TBI). The patient is followed by the TBI social worker.
  • The patient may also benefit from a referral to the caregiver support program – a CSP social worker can help guide the Veteran through the application process.
  • A newly enrolled patient at your facility has a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The local spinal cord injury (SCI) social worker to assist with the comprehensive assessment process.
  • Some Veterans or their families may be preparing for the end of life. A VA social worker can help the Veteran and his/her family members understand the importance of naming a Health Care Agent and completing a living will. This is a priority throughout the agency, as VA social workers across the country are being trained in Advance Directives.

VA social workers provide a vast array of services to the more than 8.3 million Veterans across the country. The work that social workers do each day inherently reflect the VA’s I-CARE values—integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect and excellence.  

VA social work has come a very long way in the past 90 years. Services have expanded from a primary focus on psychiatric patients and serving Veterans with tuberculosis, to the wide span of services in administration, case management, discharge planning, education, psychotherapy, advocacy, policy development, legislation and research.  

Social workers from the Charleston VA site.

A group of Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center social workers gather at the main hospital. More than 120 social workers and social work students serve Veterans and Veteran families throughout the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center--standing up for Veterans in each of the communities we serve. Photo by James Arrowood.

Get to know the social workers serving you. Together you can make things happen!

Contributing author Elizabeth "Gail" Varley is the Patient-Aligned Care Team (PACT) senior social worker at the Beaufort VA Outpatient Clinic in Beaufort, South Carolina. 


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