The Presidential Debate, the Supreme Court, and What it Means for the Affordable Care Act

On October 7th, 2020, President Donald Trump went head to head against former Vice President Joe Biden, marking the beginning of the election season and the first debate of 2020. Amongst ongoing chaos, with COVID-19 and racial unrest, this election could make or break the season finale of a monumental year. During the debate, candidates discussed many of the key topics that are at stake during this election, including the open seat in the Supreme Court.

Following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a feminist icon who has paved the way for women, minorities, and the LGBTQ community since 1993, the Court requires a new member, and whether that takes place before or after this upcoming Presidential Election is up for debate. RBG’s final statement was delivered publicly, days before her passing, “My most fervent wish is that I not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

Breakdown of the Candidate’s Segments:

After nominating Amy Coney Barrett the weekend prior to the debate President Trump vouched for her on stage, stating, “I will tell you very simply; we won the election. Elections have consequences – we have the Senate, the White House, and we have a phenomenal nominee respected by all.” Trump asserted that his remaining months in the White House would allow him to appoint Associate Justice Barrett to the empty Supreme Court seat. In his short response, President Trump expressed that her position and academic background qualified her for the seat, and reasoned that if it were up to the Democratic party, they, too, would push to elect someone of their choice for the empty seat.

Vice President Joe Biden argued that Trump’s stance on this matter is unconstitutional, stating that the “American people have a say in who the Supreme Court nominee is. And that say occurs when they vote for United State Senators and for the President of the United States; they are not going to get that option now. The election has already started.  Tens of thousands have already voted and the thing that should happen- is that we wait. We wait and see what this outcome is.”  Vice President Biden expressed his fear that that the nominee for the Supreme Court, who has written against the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and deemed it unconstitutional, would place the ACA in jeopardy. He raised concerns about the impact this will have on women’s rights, those with pre-existing health conditions, and the overall reasonableness of healthcare expenses. Biden summarized his thoughts, stating that this matter should be decided on after the election in February of 2021.

Fact-Checking: What is True About Their Statements?

According to the Chicago Tribune, Amy Coney Barrett has not, as Biden claimed, stated that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. Barrett has been vocal about her view of the ACA and the laws that upheld it in 2012, but she has not spoken out about whether or not is it constitutionally right within the law.

CNN reported Biden’s concerns about eliminating the ACA would leave approximately 20 million people from having access to affordable health insurance are true. While this appears to be true, and even more so during a global pandemic, the effect of various events of 2020 may have inflated this number. According to a study conducted by the Urban Institute in Washington, which calculated and measured the impact that changing the policy would have on Americans, 20 million people would be without insurance but CNBC reported in August that “up to 12 million Americans may have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance during the pandemic.”

A final point was brought by President Trump about his Supreme Court Nominee, stating that “some of her biggest endorsers are very liberal people.” For example, Barrett has been endorsed by Noah Feldman, a liberal law professor at Harvard as well as some support from former professors of Notre Dame. However, according to Inside Highered, these endorsements sparked a petition from faculty stating, “Many members of the faculty are strongly opposed to Amy Barrett’s nomination,” the letter said. “Many of us do not know her, but she seems to be a kind, decent, and intelligent person. However, we are strongly opposed to her views — as reflected in her writings, opinions, and dissents,” the letter said.

How Will This Impact Americans?

The Supreme Court will eventually be deciding on matters as impactful as the 1973 Roe V Wade decision, which granted women legal access to abortions. Not only does the future of the ACA lie in the hands of the Supreme Court, so do basic civil and human rights. If the ACA overturned, millions of Americans will be left abandoned in the middle of a pandemic with no replacement plan in place. The remaining options of either buying into another insurer with unreasonably heightened prices, or risking getting sick with the coronavirus with little to no support, would no doubt have massive negative impacts on Americans.

Overturning the ACA would also leave the elderly to struggle to pay for their prescriptions, as the ACA currently covers much of the expenses for seniors’ medications. This would also leave women at risk of experiencing gender-based discrimination from insurers who would charge women more than men on insurance coverage. This could lessen women’s job outlooks because businesses with company-covered insurance would view women as more expensive.

On top of impacting various vulnerable populations, America’s current recession may also be worsened if ACA is done away with. Pre-existing health conditions would once again not be covered, and preventative care will need to be paid out of pocket. Among the pandemic, Black, Latinx, and Native Americans are struggling more than ever with the systemic racism that hinders them from receiving care. If ACA is thrown out, this would leave people of color open for further discrimination by insurance companies to higher rates or denial of coverage.  

The Supreme Court has recently made decisions on sex-based discrimination, religious discrimination, and immigration law. With justices’ life-long terms, this could impact the American people for decades. The current Supreme Court balance has five conservative justices and three liberals, so this next nominee could sway the Supreme Court vote to either side, and that will ultimately impact what is brought to the Supreme Court. With all of this in mind, it is imperative that Americans utilize their right to vote during the election.

Amy Comey Barrett was confirmed by the Senate on October 26th, and the Supreme Court will be voting on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act on November 10th, 2020.

Social Workers as Elected Officials and Why We Need More

Social workers play many roles. As advocates, change agents, case managers, educators, facilitators, and organizers, Social Workers play an important part in helping people and communities make positive changes in their lives. Despite their under-representation in elected positions throughout the United States, Social Workers are excellently prepared to run with these positions and build a better life for their constituents.

An Understanding of Advocacy

Elected officials represent their constituents. They must be able to understand the needs of those constituents and what it will take to get said needs met. This is the essential element of advocacy and something that Social Workers excel at. While those in other fields also learn to perform advocacy, Social Workers constantly prioritize listening to their clients and trying to understand each individual’s viewpoint.

A Large Network

Running for any elected position requires networking. With a career emphasizing the importance of social connections, many Social Workers are already involved in community groups, advocacy organizations, volunteering, and client service that can help an election campaign. Leveraging networks and connections allows one to more effectively spread their message. This is a huge benefit, both throughout the process of running for election as well as fulfilling the responsibilities of the position.

A Deep Understanding of Policy

City Councillors make policy. State legislatures write laws. Most elected officials will be working in some kind of policy writing role that requires an understanding of the impact of their decisions. The accumulated training and experience that Social Workers have makes them excellent in this role. Not only will they understand the direct effects of policies like closing schools during COVID-19 or adding a beverage tax, but they will also be aware of the less obvious effects – for example, how these changes will affect people in poverty.

Cultural Competency

More than nearly any other career, Social Work requires an in-depth assessment and awareness of personal bias. Considering the diversity of the United States, with citizens from all different walks countries, ethnicities, cultures, and linguistic backgrounds, this awareness of bias is extremely important. Social Workers can use their understanding of cultural competency to establish coalitions of diverse individuals and ensure that all stakeholders truly feel heard in a government environment that frequently does the opposite.

Conclusion

While there are 682,000 Social Workers in the United States, there are only 2 Social Work-Senators and 4 Social Work-Members of Congress. Compare that number to the 1.35 million lawyers in the United States and the 47 Lawyer-Senators and 145 Lawyer-Members of Congress. This means that there is 1 Senator-Social Worker for every 341,000 Social Workers in the United States, and 1 Member of Congress-Social Worker for every 170,500 Social Workers in the United States. On the other hand, there is one Lawyer-Senator for every 28,723 Lawyers in the United States and 1 Lawyer-Member of Congress for every 9,310 Lawyers!

Social workers are sharply underrepresented in these and various other elected positions compared to members of other career paths. Even so, based on their experiences and training, Social Workers could create very positive and impactful changes in these roles.

Remember the First Presidential Debate – Where Our Presidential Candidates Stand

The first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden took place on September 29, 2020. The 90-minute debate featured a series of bitter exchanges and name-calling as Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox struggled to facilitate the conversation. Wallace repeatedly admonished the president for disregarding debate rules and interrupting Biden’s speaking time. A “will you shut up, man…It’s hard to get any word in with this clown” from Biden serves as a recap of how the night went and resonates with many of the American people.

Among the six debate topics, the issue of race and violence in our cities was prompted followed by a question to gauge each candidate’s ability to combat race issues. In response, Trump claimed that he was better suited than Biden to eliminate these issues and is “doing better than any Republican has done in a long time” – an opinion that is unpopular among Black and Brown voters. The President also referenced the 1994 Crime Bill, a controversial piece of legislation that reinforced punitive responses to deter crime and incentivized states to build more prisons. In an effort to weaken Biden’s arguments, Trump accused Biden of referring to Black people as superpredators. Biden refuted Trump’s accusations with the statement “I did not say that. I’ve never said that.”

Fact- Check: Did Biden Call Black People Superpredators?

According to NBC News, Trump’s accusation was “mostly false.” In fact, it was Hillary Clinton, the former United States Secretary of State, who used the term in support of the 1994 Crime Bill. However, Biden, a co-author of the law, did warn of “predators” in a 1993 floor speech he delivered in support of the bill. According to Biden’s speech in 1993, predators were “beyond the pale” and must be sanctioned away from the rest of society because the criminal legal system does not know how to rehabilitate them. Since then, Biden has publicly apologized for his past stance on criminal legal issues and admitted that the decisions made in that era “trapped an entire generation.”

The term “superpredator” was coined in 1996 by John Dilulio, a Princeton professor who predicted that a wave of ruthless, violent young offenders was on the horizon. According to Dilulio’s theory, these young people were so impulsive that they could engage in violent crimes without hesitation or remorse. A 1997 report published by the Office of Justice Programs at the U.S. Department of Justice found that juvenile courts in the United States processed more than 1.7 million delinquency cases in 1995, a 7-percent increase over the 1994 caseload and a 45-percent increase over the number of caseloads handled in 1986. Compounding an influx of juvenile proceedings was significant research suggesting a strong relationship between childhood adversity and involvement with the juvenile or adult criminal systems. Eventually, public officials supported Dilulio’s theory, which resulted in tough-on-crime policies for young and adult offenders across the country. 

While it is true that incarceration rates were already high by 1994, the passage of the federal crime bill disproportionately impacted communities of color. The bill exacerbated racial and ethnic disparities in state prisons by deploying more police into neighborhoods of color. Considered “one of the cornerstone statutes that accelerated mass incarceration,” a combination of more prisons, racial profiling, and mandatory minimum sentencing funneled a generation of Black and Brown people into the juvenile and criminal legal system. Today, The United States and federal prison population has increased since 1994 and widened racial disparities. According to a 2020 data analysis, more than 60% of people in prison today are people of color and Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men, with Hispanic men being 2.7 times as likely. Consistent with both candidates’ remarks, the Black and Brown community continues to bear the harshest brunt of discriminatory policies and practices. 

Fight the Fake: The Importance of Fact-Checking and How to Recognize A False Claim

In a world with unlimited access to social media and the internet, fact-checking is conducive to making informed voting decisions. Making informed voting decisions means that an individual is knowledgeable about the topics and positions of candidates who are running for office. Additionally, it means that an individual is able to make their own decisions without influence from outside factors, including misinformation found online. Acknowledging that fact-checking is not always an easy task, especially with constant, savvy efforts against it and persuasive content, here are five ways to combat misinformation and cast informed votes:

  • Detect whether the statement is a claim of fact.
    • When a statement that you heard jumps out to you, ask yourself if it is a claim of fact. It’s important to note that opinion, rhetoric, and satire have a place in public debate. Although you can not fact-check opinion, fact-checkable claims can be easily spotted. Sometimes, these claims feature tangible nouns (housing or insurance), numbers, and comparisons (“the economy is doing better under my administration”), and they also contain statements about what a candidate has achieved.
  • Think about the context of the claim.
    • It may be helpful to ask yourself what the claim leaves out. When a candidate claims to have influenced massive economic growth, for example, it’s important to look into the status of the economy before the candidate was elected into office.
  • Find reliable sources to test the validity of the claim.
    • Depending on the claim you are fact-checking, the best sources may be government-run websites and records, peer-reviewed articles with large sample sizes, or well-known organizations with credibility such as The Commission on Presidential Debates.
  • Is the candidate claiming credit that is not due?
    • Another misleading trick is to claim credit for something that was the result of another elected official’s agenda. If an elected official claims that they combated systemic issues while in office, it’s worthwhile to dig deeper to see who was responsible for the specific changes they are referring to. 
  • Accept that you’ll have critics.
    • Lastly, it’s important to recognize that you will have critics. As you know, everyone is entitled to their opinion even if it is different than your own. However, that does not mean you have to conform- you have the autonomy to make decisions based on your lived experiences. 

All in all, ignore the Twitter and Facebook trolls and make informed decisions for you and your loved ones. Despite how advanced and easily accessible information is on TV, social media, and the internet, it is ultimately up to you to remain vigilant and seek the truth.

Americans are Voting Early and Making Plans to Ensure Their Vote Counts

The first of three presidential debates touched on many hot topics, with President Donald Trump and presidential candidate Joe Biden having an impassioned debate over the integrity of the 2020 election. While President Trump has been very vocal in the past about voter fraud, he claimed that mail-in voting fraud is a particular concern this year. In addition to voter fraud, Trump also claimed that mail-in ballots are being thrown out and that the number of mail-in ballots will overload the systems currently in place for receiving and counting votes.

With the current COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 75% of voters have the ability to vote by mail for the upcoming general election. During the debate, as well as on twitter, Trump said that there are 80 million mail-in ballots being sent to people who did not request them and declared it “unfair” and “total fraud.” While a few states do automatically send out mail-in ballots to voters, there is no way that this would add up to the proclaimed 80 million ballots. The accusation of fraud by mail-in has been shown to be unfounded, and The Brennan Center for Justice has put together a compilation of independent and government research that shows that voter fraud is rare. How rare? Between 0.0003% and 0.0025% of votes in various past elections. In fact, from 2000 to 2012, there were only 2,068 cases of voter fraud, with only 24% of those being related to mail-in ballots. Despite his concerns, Trump has cast his vote by mail-in ballot in the past.

During the debate over the integrity of this year’s election, presidential candidate Joe Biden cited the FBI, whose director has said that there has been no evidence of any type of coordinated voter fraud. Biden said that mail-in ballots are necessary this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and reaffirmed the idea that they are safe and secure. Biden noted that people can still vote in person, and urged the people watching to make sure they do vote this year. He also brought up the fact that the military has been using mail-in ballots since the Civil War.

While mail-in voting has had a strong and lengthy history in the U.S. for military members, the process works a bit differently for the general population. All states routinely offer absentee ballots, often used by college students, military members, and others who are not able to visit their polling location on election day. Due to COVID-19, more than 30 states have allowed residents to request absentee mail-in ballots without a specific reason. There are also five states (Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Utah, and Hawaii) that have been regularly using all mail-in voting without issue.

This year, many people are not comfortable voting in person, with some studies showing that almost 50% of people are uncomfortable with the idea. This is to be expected due to the ongoing fluctuation of COVID-19 cases throughout the country. Another unique challenge that is impacting the voters of the US this year is the ongoing conflict between Trump and the USPS. Trump has admitted to blocking funding that the USPS needs to maintain its operations, and has mentioned “fraudulent” mail-in voting as part of his reasoning. People residing in states that are allowing absentee ballots due to COVID-19 are encouraged to request and return their mail-in ballots as early as they can.

On top of the barriers caused by Trump’s interference, many states have strict voter ID laws, registration rules, and few physical polling locations. Voter ID laws negatively impact already marginalized groups of people, including people of color, low-income individuals, and young people. Without an ID, you cannot vote, but many people do not have the time, resources, or funds to acquire a state-issued ID. In recent years, various southern states have closed a combined total of over 1,200 polling locations, further adding to the barriers citizens face when trying to cast their votes. The closed polling locations have predominantly impacted people of color and people living in low-income communities, which have seen the most polling location closures.

Mail-in voting can be beneficial for those who have seen their previous polling locations close, as well as people who may experience challenges voting in person. Although polling places are supposed to follow the guidelines set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), approximately 60% of polling places were inaccessible for people with various disabilities in past elections. People living with certain disabilities are also at higher risk for serious complications if they contract COVID-19. For these reasons, mail-in voting is an important tool that Americans living with disabilities need access to this year.

Mail-in ballots have been a part of voting in the U.S. since the 1800s, and they will continue to be an integral part of the election system for the foreseeable future. With more states moving towards all-mail voting systems, the evidence is clear – mail-in voting is safe and it works. Remember, over 30 states have allowed their residents to request absentee ballots without a reason, making it easier than ever to vote in the 2020 presidential election. You can visit vote.gov and select your state to find out how to register to vote and check your voter status.

Make sure you check out your state’s specific voting page for accurate information on voting by mail, as it varies from state to state. If you live in a state that is not allowing you to vote by mail in this election, this website can tell you if your state requires your employer to give you time off to go vote in person. To make sure you have all the resources to vote, Michelle Obama, Tom Hanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Janelle Monae, Chris Paul, Faith Hill, and Tim McGraw created When We All Vote, which offers a Voter Resources Hub full of information specific to where you live. Knowledge is power, and this year, more than ever, it is important to know your voting rights and make sure your voice is heard in the 2020 election.

The Impact of Institutional Racism on Capitol Hill

The 116th Congress, the current meeting of the legislative branch of the United States federal government, is the most racially and ethnically diverse in history. Black, Latinx, Asian/ Pacific Islander, or Indigenous members now account for 22% of Congress, a record-breaking trend on Capitol Hill. This represents an 84% increase over the 107th Congress of 2001 to 2003, which had 63 diverse members. Although racial and ethnic diversity among lawmakers has increased over the years, Congress remains disproportionately white when compared to the overall U.S. population.

Social Solutionist Dr. Angela Henderson suggests that the lack of diversity of legislators on Capitol Hill is directly tied to institutional racism. Skilled in research and statistical analysis, Dr. Henderson examined demographic data from the 116th Congress to better understand the relationship between systemic inequities and racial and ethnic disproportionality. Dr. Henderson translates research into action-oriented solutions that will eradicate institutional racism and increase diversity on Capitol Hill.

“The best way to change the future is to understand history.”

                 – Adam Ramer 

The requirement for candidates to raise significant funds for their congressional campaign compounds the homogeneity on Capitol Hill. Due to the effects of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and unequitable wealth distribution, the lack of monetary inheritance within communities of color present significant barriers. Monetary inheritance within a family provides financial stability for future generations to thrive and take advantage of wealth-building opportunities. According to a 2014 Pew Research Center article, the income of households headed by Black people continues to lag behind households headed by white people. In 2014, the median Black household income was approximately $43,300 while the median white household income was about $71,300. The study also found that household heads with higher levels of formal education tend to have higher household incomes. However, the Black-white-gap in income occurs across all educational levels and indicates a lack of equitable opportunities for communities of color.

Decades of racial discrimination, segregation, and disinvestments in communities of color have left families with fewer resources when under financial pressure. In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted The New Deal to combat a housing shortage and to increase housing stock. In reality, this program was a state-sponsored system of segregation that pushed Black and Brown families into urban housing projects. In 1934, the Federal Housing Administration furthered segregation efforts by refusing to insure mortgages within Black and Brown communities, a practice known as redlining. The Federal Housing Administration justified racial segregation by claiming property values would decrease if people of color bought homes near the suburbs. Although the New Deal was repealed in 1939, it has left behind ongoing stagnant racial inequities and deep wealth gaps between Black and white communities.

Debt negatively impacts all families but is especially burdensome for families of color. Research suggests that while only 15% of white households have been late with debt payments, 27% of Black households have been late with debt payments. Without a social safety net or alternative financial means, more and more Black families may be at risk of taking out additional loans at high interest rates to pay their living expenses. This leaves fewer assets and means for families to support and assist their children with basic life necessities, such as housing, transportation, and/or college tuition.

“There can be no learning without action, and no action without learning.”

          – Reg Revans

According to Dr. Henderson, we can take the following steps to push back against the effects of institutional racism and increase leadership diversity on Capitol Hill:

  1. Community Rites of Passage Investment: We must strategically invest in our youth of color early, particularly investing in youths of color who are on a political track that requires financial means to succeed. Given that it takes a village to raise a child, our community should collectively craft solutions and invest in opportunities for our children to do so.
  2. Mentoring, Internships, and Fellowships: All professions, including political social workers and researchers, should challenge themselves to mentor and provide internships and fellowships to youth, undergraduate, and graduate students. These programs and opportunities, such as Emerge Virginia, will help students get acquainted with working in Congressional or State offices.
  3. Political Training Programs: This learning opportunity will help students develop skills around campaign messaging, fundraising, campaign budgeting, and all tactics pertaining to running for office.
  4. Political Action Committees (PAC): Support PACs, U.S. organizations that raise money privately to influence elections or legislation.
  5. Social Work Political Campaign Courses: Every social work program around the country should offer a course about social workers and political campaigns. This course should provide social work students with a year-long intensive training on politics, etiquette, debating, and different ways to prepare them for work in this realm.

In order to increase leadership diversity on Capitol Hill, we will need to create more opportunities for people of color. Acknowledging the challenges and barriers they often face such as limited professional networks and political clout, we have to be intentional about bringing people of color into these spaces. We have to ensure that we are equipping youth and communities of color with the connections and resources needed to build wealth and maintain sustainability. As Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley urges, “we have to be disruptors, innovators, and we have to shake the table.”

Serving Our Veterans: Will History Repeat Itself? (Part 4 of 4)

WWI veterans excercising their civil liberties and demanding their Bonus checks that were promised to them.
WWI veterans excercising their civil liberties and demanding their Bonus checks that were promised to them.

Throughout the series, I have taken you back to Washington D.C. during the Great Depression, alongside 25,000-45,000 WWI veterans protesting and lobbying for their Bonus checks that would help get them out of poverty. I analyzed two key tensions, Micro vs. Macro and Public vs. Private, in order to show you how they have had a dramatic impact on the way our country treats those who fight her wars. Now, I will tie everything together and demonstrate how these historical lessons can help us better serve our veterans today.

Similar to the Bonus Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) veterans of 1932, modern U.S. military veterans are issuing grievances to the U.S. government, and anyone who will listen, over issues related to compensation. 82 years after the B.E.F., popularized as the Bonus Army, occupied our nation’s capital, 550,000 veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan are waiting on average between 273- 327 days for their disability compensation claims to go through, often at the expense of their physical and mental health. While recognizing the U.S. government has made much progress since the time of the B.E.F., it is apparent that work still needs to be done.

Although society has widely accepted public assistance as a need for U.S. military veterans, there are hundreds of private agencies that still exist to serve the needs of the same veterans that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) serves, or aims to serve. This would suggest that the services provided by the public, federal government, are not adequately meeting the needs of U.S. military veterans. One must only consider the average wait on the VA’s disability claim back log mentioned previously to see the VA is not prepared to handle the rising needs of U.S. veterans.

While there is observable Public vs. Private tension among services provided to veterans, a question can also be asked in consideration of this tension: Does the U.S. government view the issues that military veterans face as being personal/private problems, or does it acknowledge that these are public issues brought upon individual veterans as a result of their time in military service? This question may be a topic for further investigation. While we can still observe Public vs. Private tension occurring among modern U.S. veterans and the U.S. government’s approach to serving them, we can see Micro vs. Macro tensions as well.

Through an analysis of all the services the VA provides U.S. military veterans, it is apparent that the VA takes a micro level approach, treating every veteran on a case by case basis, rather than having a focus on macro level systems to address environmental factors that might contribute to adequate care.  We’ll see why this matters to society in a minute, but why does this matter to the field social work? Social work has been an integral part of veteran services provided by the U.S. government since 1929 and the VA is now affiliated with over 180 Graduate Schools of Social Work, training about 900 students per year. VA Social Work demonstrates its micro level focus in its mission statement which reads “The mission of VA Social Work is to maximize health and well being, through the use of psychosocial interventions for Veterans, Families and Caregivers” (2013). Psychosocial interventions aren’t necessarily the wrong approach, but it is near the foundation of micro level practice.

U.S. veterans, veteran service organizations, and even social workers within the VA, might benefit from following the social work trend and adopting or including a macro level approach to address modern day issues. After all, this series has shown that macro level approaches are historically the most effective at creating positive change and building security and autonomy for a group of disadvantaged individuals. It is through this intersection that the most profound implications of this series can be drawn.

In order to adequately address the needs of U.S. veterans, more work needs to be done at the macro level. Whether this manifests through the VA adopting new practices like creating a program with the sole focus of macro systems, social workers advocating and lobbying for macro changes in public policy, or veterans themselves recreating a physical effort at the scale of the Bonus Army in 1932; a macro approach larger than anything currently present must occur for the veteran population’s needs to be adequately addressed.

If U.S. veterans from around the country arrived en mass at Washington D.C. demanding legislation to end the VA backlog, support alternative healthcare measures within the VA, and to protect veterans benefits from any future government shutdowns or policy changes (three primary, widespread issues noted by the author); then modern U.S. veterans would be able to carry on the legacy that the Bonus Expeditionary Force left behind. Such an effort would require something that we don’t see very often: the participation and collaboration of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and the dozens of other national agencies that work with and for U.S. veterans. After all, collaboration among large veteran organizations was what finally led to the passage of a Bonus Bill in 1936.

I will conclude by saying this is not just an issue for U.S. veterans, it is an issue for society as a whole and in particular, social workers. Especially social workers who work within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Every U.S. citizen has benefited from the passage of the Bonus Bill and the GI Bill that followed; evident in the rise of the middle class during the 1950’s from millions of veterans going to college and buying homes. When U.S. veterans are adequately cared for, everyone wins. If social workers are called to “draw on their knowledge, values, and skills to help people in need and to address social problems” (National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics, 2013), then social workers should not only help carry on the B.E.F. legacy, they should be using their knowledge, values, skills, and privilege as professionals; to lead such an effort from the front.

References:

Dickson, P. & Allen T. B. (2004). The bonus army: an American epic. New York, NY: Walker.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. (2013). The wait we carry.  Web.  Retrieved Nov 26 2013 from http://thewaitwecarry.org/.

Martinez, M. & Couwels, J. (2013). Obama says backlog reduced in veterans’ disability claims. CNN. Cable News Network, 10 Aug. 2013. Web.  Retrieved Nov 26, 2013 from .

National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics. (2013). (n.d.)

United States Department of Veterans Affairs. (2013). Veterans services. n.d. Web. Retrieved Nov 26, 2013 from .

VA Social Work. (2013). United States Department of Veterans Affairs. 2012. Web. Retrieved Dec 9, 2013 from .

Serving Our Veterans: Micro vs Macro (Part 3 of 4)

Part one of this series analyzed the impact of the Bonus Army, and part two looked at the survival of the Private vs. Public argument when providing services to those who fight our nation’s wars. In this third installment, I will be analyzing micro vs macro an even greater tension that has persisted from the Depression to present day, and it still continues to influence our effectiveness at serving our veterans.

Bronfenbrenn-system-bigSocial work as a field is constantly living within the Micro vs. Macro tension, as were the Bonus Army veterans also known as the Bonus Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.). At the most basic micro level, social workers aim to assist individuals in need. At the macro level, social workers aim to change policy and environmental conditions that support social change and afford individuals some level of security and autonomy. All along the way, we can observe tension among individuals and agencies, who place a higher priority on one or the other.

In the Anacostia Flats during the summer of 1932, there were certainly veterans of the B.E.F. who were there for their own personal motives, operating from a micro perspective. There were also veterans among them, who were motivated by a macro perspective, hoping to effect change for the entire veteran population. Life in Anacostia for these WWI veterans during the Bonus March had its own Micro vs. Macro tensions as a result.

During the same time veterans of the B.E.F. were impacting macro level change; the field of social work was taking a similar approach. Throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s social workers advocated for changes at the macro level, often taking the form of community organizing. Even the field of social work itself was founded in macro level approaches. Through Jane Addams’ Hull House and the settlement house concept of the late 1800’s, social work gained its foot hold as a profession by working with groups and communities, advocating for policy change, and even Addams herself was a political leader.  After a few decades however, the field of social work began to shift more toward micro level perspectives.

As time progressed and our society continued to challenge the status quo at the macro level, social workers by and large became distracted at the micro level. This change was largely fueled by an increase in Freudian ideology, which brought social workers out of the community and into their offices as individual counselors and case workers. With social work changing its focus to the micro level practice of diagnosing and counseling individual clients, the field had much less workers on the macro scale advocating for public services and had very little stake in the changing political climate of the 1960’s and 1970’s as a result. Only within the past decade or two has social work begun to step back into the macro level as a viable agent. So we observe this Micro vs. Macro tension shifting among social work over time.

As Bertha Reynolds (1935) pointed out, “social case work rather finds its function in dealing with difficulties in the relationship between individuals or groups and their physical or social environment”. Her observation, which was made during the same period as the events of the Bonus Army, was true before these events and is still true to this day. The tension between Micro vs. Macro is likely to continue to persist.

What can we learn from this? If these tensions will persist indefinitely, what’s the point? I would argue that by acknowledging the existence of these tensions, we are more apt to finding better solutions that will help us be more effective at serving our veterans for the long haul. So what are the implications of these tensions in how the U.S. government addresses it’s military veterans now? What can we do better? Stay tuned for the final segment of this series to find out.

References:

Addams, J. (1893). The objective value of a social settlement. Philanthropy and social progress (pp. 27-40). New York: Thomas Y. Cromwell.

Andrews, J. & Reisch, M. (1997). Social work and anti- communism: A historical analysis of the McCarthy era. Journal of Progressive Human Services, 8, 29-49.

Fisher, R. & Karger, H.J. (1997). Macro practice: Putting social change and public life back into social work practice. In Social work and community in a private world: Getting out in public (pp. 117-147). New York: Longman.

Perlman, H.H.(1957). Freud’s contribution to social welfare. Social Service Review, 31, 2, 192-202

Reynolds, B.C. (1935). Whom do social workers serve? Social Work Today, 2, 6, 5-8.

Seigfried, C.H. (2009). The courage of one’s convictions or the convictions of one’s courage: Jane Addams’ principled compromises. In M. Fischer, D. Nackenoff, & W. Chmielewski (Eds.). Jane Addams and the practice of democracy. University of Illinois Press.

Waters, W.W. & White, W.C. (1933). B.E.F.: the whole story of the bonus army. Mass violence in America. (1969). New York, NY: Arno Press & The New York Times.

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