ACSWA has a strong commitment to VA clinical social workers, many of whom have recently responded to an ACSWA questionnaire. Their answers point the way toward reforms, just as MITRE Corp., per the new federal law aimed at overhauling the VA, takes over the role of investigator of problems and recommender of solutions that will create a more effective agency.
VA clinical social worker respondents report that fewer than half received information about the Special Advancement for Achievement “professional pay” program that was passed by Congress several years ago and that is, be federal law, supposed to be made available to eligible clinical social workers.
Only 19% report that the person in charge of Mental Health at their site was a clinical social worker (despite the fact that clinical social workers are the largest group of behavioral healthcare providers). 53% reported that psychiatrists ran things; 24% that psychologists were in charge.
Only 22% report that their labor unions had ever advocated for clinical social workers.
Many gave answers as to how they might be enabled to do their jobs better. The most popular answer was for the VA to guarantee Vtel access. Other suggestions (not exhaustive and in no particular order) were the need for a system of integrated electronic medical records with appropriate functions for mental healthcare (not requiring access through separate programs); the need for one’s own office (not shared) to ensure privacy and confidentiality to the clients; and the need for more time for program development. Also: improve leadership opportunities for clinical social workers (“I have been left out” of decision making), and make management more responsive (e.g. “If you don’t work at the main hospital, you’re ignored”; e.g. “the social work leader board is enmeshed and caught up in turf issues.”). Also: extend the hours of VA site operation to meet the needs of vets who work; provide more clinical supervision; make available a case manager to help in managing the clinician’s suicide prevention duties.
There is much food for thought in these and many other 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 to serve their clients; and we at ACSWA will continue to give expression 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.