Veterans have unique needs. Many who return from combat have injuries or stress-related illnesses. Some develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other trauma-related disorders as a result of experiences in the war zone. Others must deal with prolonged grief over the loss of companions they bonded to. Some veterans experience guilt as a result of their war time participation and/or a sense of powerlessness over situations they couldn’t control. Depression is common and suicide not unheard of.
Mental and physical problems can make it difficult to find civilian employment. And readjustment can be difficult even for those who do not experience significant psychiatric disturbance. After all, how many people find transitions easy?
Why you might want to think about becoming one...
Veterans counselors help returning service members with a range of issues. In fact, the term ‘veterans counselor’ is broad and can refer to several different roles. Some veterans counselors provide general readjustment counseling. Others treat mental illness; although licensed to treat a range of conditions, they may specialize in PTSD. Another area of need is vocational and rehabilitation counseling.
Veterans counselors also work with the families of veterans. Their patients may include school aged children who are acting out their fears and military spouses who are returning to the workforce. Therapists do more than provide direct counseling. They also serve as advocates for veterans and their families. Veterans counselors often work for the government. The Veterans Administration is one well known employer. Actual work settings vary. Some counselors offer outreach in higher education settings as a part of their job.
Veterans Counselor Training
Counselors have more employment options if they have a master’s degree. A graduate degree is necessary for private practice and for many governmental positions. There are some readjustment and vocational counseling opportunities for individuals who don’t have a graduate degree, but one does need the right mix of experience. (Some jobs go to individuals who have served in the military themselves – and who have additional experience in a related field.)
The graduate degree will probably not be in veterans counseling per se. Mental health counseling and rehabilitation counseling are both viable options, but will prepare workers for different roles. A mental health counseling program is the best choice for individuals who are interested in helping veterans who have PTSD or other serious psychiatric disturbances. In order to work as a Veterans Administration mental health counselor, one must graduate from a program that is accredited by CACREP. This is a relatively new mandate – the current occupational guidelines are available on the VA site.
Veterans counselors can take continuing education courses though organizations like the National Center for PTSD. Recent offerings have included From the War Zone to the Home Front and Conducting Research with Women Veterans. One can find a number of resources, from Traumatic Grief to Casualty and Death Notification on the website.
Licensing and Certification
Mental health counselors are licensed in all 50 states, and rehabilitation counselors are often licensed as well. In some states, both are eligible for the Licensed Professional Counselor credential. The Certified Rehabilitation Counselor credential is a third party certification that many employers demand.
The government recognizes that returning service men and women are frequently in need of counseling and sets aside funds for services. There are jobs, even during economic downturns. The salary that a veterans counselor can expect to earn will depend on job role and sector. The Bureau of Labor Statistics listed an average salary of $38,150 for mental health counselors and $32,350 for rehabilitation counselors in 2010, noting that a master’s was the typical entry point for each. Both occupations are growing.