FORT POLK, La. –
“The Time is Right for Social Work” is the theme of Social Work Awareness Month 2022. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics social work is the fastest growing profession in the country with more than 720,000 social workers in the United States. At the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk social workers can be found at the hospital, Army Community Service and supporting military children in the local schools.
At Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital, social workers play a pivotal role in the Department of Behavioral Health, the patient centered medical home and at troop clinics across the installation.
Capt. Scott Saucer, licensed clinical social worker with the embedded behavioral health clinic is a former tank commander who earned a masters in social work after ending his first active duty obligation.
“I became a social worker because I wanted to help people, I specifically wanted to serve veterans,” he said. “After being through some of the challenges that our service men and women face, I felt that I could connect with them because I’ve been where they’ve been and have seen some of the same things they have.”
Saucer said while in command the biggest complaint he heard from his troops was that Soldiers couldn’t relate to the providers at behavioral health. He hopes with his background he can get Soldiers to open up to him.
“Behavioral health is just like any other service, if you need it, that’s what it’s there for,” he said. “If you had a broken bone you’d go to the doctor. If you need help with any emotional or behavioral issue why wouldn’t you go to someone who could help you?”
Saucer said there is no longer a stigma for active duty service members seeking behavioral health services.
“The primary job of social workers today is psychotherapy and counseling,” he said. “The business of the Army is defending our country and at the end of the day, it’s my job to support the Soldiers on the ground. I wear the same uniform, have the same experiences and badges as my patients and it helps me meet them where they are.”
Saucer said holistic health and fitness has encouraged a new culture in the Army that promotes overall wellness, mind, body, spirit and the connection between lifestyle choices and overall health.
Chuck Satterfield, licensed clinical social worker with BJACH behavioral health, said becoming a social worker requires a lot of education; a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and thousands of hours of supervision followed by a timed exam.
“I left the Marine Corps 30 years ago, back then, there were no behavioral health services that I recall,” he said. “I’ve seen a huge change in the military. Life happens, regardless of what branch of service a person joins. We all have issues, we all have a history, and we all came from something. In order to make sure we are mission ready, service members need to be emotionally and mentally ready.”
Satterfield said raising awareness about the field of social work is important because it’s often misunderstood.
“Many people think all social workers do is take children from their families. They think we’re baby snatchers,” he said. “People don’t understand that the field of social work is so vast. A true social worker is not trying to take your children but rather is there to help you have better coping strategies and provide you with resources that will help you take care of your children in order to have a better quality of life.”
Takenya Jones-Stewart, interim substance use disorder clinical care director at BJACH, devotes her time to people struggling with substance abuse.
According to army.mil, The Army's Substance Use Disorder Clinical Care (SUDCC) program uses a multidisciplinary approach to treat and provide Soldiers, Family members and Army Civilians with the resources and support they need to overcome the challenges of illicit drug use, prescription medicine and alcohol abuse.
“I began my career in social work because of personal experiences and a tragedy associated with substance abuse,” she said. “Substance use will affect readiness. Most people believe they have it under control, that it’s not as bad as it is, but having this program allows us to give Soldiers insight into how severe it can get and how it can affect their personal and professional lives.”
Ethan Nicholas, licensed clinical social worker and addiction counselor with the BJACH SUDCC program said he chose the field of social work after an undergraduate summer internship and during his first job as an intervention specialist and job coach within the school system.
“Our profession is very misunderstood,” he said. “We work with the court systems, in hospitals, group homes, and with family members. Interacting with other agencies in the community, I find we often have to breakdown exactly what we do.”
Nicholas said becoming a social worker is a calling and requires internal motivation, an innate ability to reach people and build relationships.
“One of my primary functions at BJACH is to facilitate group counseling sessions,” he said. “The interesting part about group is that each group has their own personality and over time you’ll see people come out of their shell within the group. It’s amazing to see the group come together with a family-like bond.”
Nicholas said group counseling is important because it requires individuals to work with others just like they would in their day-to-day lives. He said they have discussions and hear different perspective from their peers instead of just the counselors, which can be extremely powerful and beneficial.
Not all social workers work in a medical setting. At ACS social workers support Soldiers and their Families through the Family Advocacy Program. Some of the things they do are victim advocacy, the exceptional family member program and support to new parents.
Heather Hoosier, licensed clinical social worker is a home visitor with the New Parent Support Program. She said she became a social worker because there wasn’t a lot of math or science credits required during her undergraduate studies, but she stayed in the field because of its flexibility and diversity.
“I think a lot of our time as social workers is spent convincing families that we are not there to judge them or make any kind of report on them,” she said. “We are here to work with them to avoid situations like that. Social work is often an underappreciated profession, but there are intrinsic rewards. I honestly didn't even know what social work was when I started college, but I have fallen in love with the flexibility of meeting people where they are.”
Christina Barrett, licensed master social worker, is the Exceptional Family Member Program system navigator at ACS.
“I do non-clinical social work for military families,” she said. “I don’t provide therapy. I provide education, information and resources to help them understand a new diagnosis and assessments they are given for a variety of medical conditions.”
Barrett said she is able to help Families quell fears, navigate through a multitude of resources and advocate on behalf of a marginalized group within our community.
“I can provide Families the tools, resources and education to work with their children,” she said. “I chose social work because it is a flexible career with a wide variety of professional options. As a military spouse, every time I’ve moved, I am able to adapt to new positions and new places because I have a broad understanding of all the different things I can do as a social worker.”
According to socialworkers.org, social workers are everywhere people need help navigating tough life challenges. They contribute to interdisciplinary care teams in schools, hospitals, mental health centers, nonprofits, corporations and the military.
During Social Work Month 2022, take time to learn more about the many positive contributions of the profession and to celebrate the social workers who support the Soldiers and Families at Fort Polk.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about social work as a profession during Social Work Awareness Month, view the public service announcement created by the BJACH PAO at: