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Exploring MSW Student Opportunities With the Department of Veterans Affairs

In this video, James Watts, chief of social work service and chaplain service at the Lexington VA Health Care System, describes how UK’s MSW with a military behavioral health certificate can prepare students for working with veterans through a deep understanding of military life. As a UK alumnus and former MSW student, James understands the value of a program specifically designed for military populations.

Watts explains that MSW students who are interested in pursuing a VA internship can work with their advisor to explore opportunities. Students who successfully complete their year-long VA internship can also benefit from direct hiring for social work roles within the Department of Veterans Affairs

JAMES WATTS: James Watts, I’m the chief of Social Work Service and Chaplain Service at the Lexington VA Health Care System. I received my MSW from the University of Kentucky in 1997. The military certificate program affords MSW students the opportunity to have very specific education in regard to military culture, military life. It is a secondary certificate that the person would receive in addition to their MSW that would attest to a future employer that this person has specific knowledge around the military culture and about military life and post-military life as a veteran.

The importance of a specifically designed educational program about military populations is that that population is different. If a student is interested in working with a veteran population, the first thing I would do is say speak to your advisor because they can help guide you towards a particular practicum that would be helpful for that. If you are interested in becoming a practicum student or an internship student at the VA, your placement advisor will help you with that.

You have to go through a interview. You have to go through an orientation. There are some background things we need to do to make sure that we can have a person around veterans and providing care to veterans. And you will have a year-long internship in most cases as an MSW student to be able to learn. If you want to be there.

There is a specific law that’s in effect right now to where if you’ve done an internship for the Department of Veterans Affairs, you do not have to compete for a position if one becomes available. They can direct hire you if you have done well during your internship. We have 140 facilities throughout the nation and territories of the United States to where if you want to go work in Michigan or Puerto Rico or Guam, we have a place there. And you can apply for that position, or they can attempt to hire you into a direct hire process. But the first thing to do is to talk to your advisor and say, hey, I might be interested.