Social Workers, Caring for Veterans

Marine Corps Veteran Rey Santiago, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, discusses recreation programs with Lindsey Bernier, social worker. Photo: VA/Kathryn Morris.
Marine Corps Veteran Rey Santiago, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, discusses recreation programs with Lindsey Bernier, social worker. Photo: VA/Kathryn Morris.

By Kathryn G. Morris, Public Affairs


March is Social Work Month. At the Martinsburg VA Medical Center, social workers are an integral part of our health care team. They provide diverse support for our Veterans and their families by:

  • Conducting individual, couples, family and group therapy;
  • Assisting homeless Veterans to secure employment and residential opportunities;
  • Supporting Veterans who receive palliative or end-of-life care, as well as their families through bereavement counseling;
  • And ensuring that returning combat Veterans are informed of VA support.

“Social workers are our Veterans’ safety nets,” said Monique Smith, Medical Center Social Work Executive. “Without effective and hardworking social workers, many Veterans would fall through the gaps.”

Kim Cumbie is just one example of how social workers provide essential support. As part of Home Based Primary Care (HBPC), a comprehensive and longitudinal primary care program for Veterans with complex, chronic and disabling disease, Cumbie helps both Veterans and their caregivers. The HBPC has become the modern-day doctor’s house call, but offers a variety of specialized health care, including social work.

The majority of caregivers are “informal” – spouses or family members who support their Veteran at home. In 2007, the Family Caregiver Alliance reported over 270,000 informal caregivers in West Virginia alone. “Providing support, resources and education to caregivers is one of the most fulfilling aspects of my job,” said Cumbie. “I know I’ve touched many people’s lives by simply providing an empathic ear or a resource that reduced the caregiver’s stress level.”

Cumbie also connects the Veteran to VA and community resources, like applying for VA benefits or completing advance directives and annual means tests. Cumbie assisted one non-service connected Veteran become 100% service connected, helped his wife secure community resources to repair their home, and filed for replacement medals of those lost in a house fire. “While the Veteran was at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center receiving end-of-life care, his family got to see him open the box with his purple heart inside shortly before his death,” said Cumbie. “They said it was an unforgettable joy.”

Like Cumbie, social workers act as advocates for our Veterans, ensuring that their voices are heard and their needs are met. This March and every month, remember to thank a social worker.

For more information about Social Work Services offered through the Martinsburg VA Medical Center, contact Social Work Executive Monique Smith at (304) 263-0811, ext. 3259.


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