NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
David L. Kennedy
Navy Captain David Kennedy will forever be remembered not only as the first uniformed social worker to serve in the Navy but also as one who played a major role in its development. He received his BS degree in Physical Education in 1974 and his MSW in 1976 from the University of California, Berkley.
Capt. Kennedy's diverse social work career began some 30 years ago when he became the director of the Drug Abuse Program at the West Oakland Health Center, which was the largest methadone maintenance program in the San Francisco Bay area. During the early days of his social work career, he worked as a school Social Worker for the San Francisco public school district, a Psychiatric Social Worker for Alameda County Mental Health, and as a Medical Social Worker for Kaiser Foundation Hospital in San Francisco.
His major landmarks began in 1980 when he was commissioned as a Social Work Officer in the United States Navy and became the first Social Worker Commissioned by the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. During his first tour in San Diego, California, he organized and became head of the first Social Work Department. He was later assigned to the Navy's Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Washington, D.C. There he became the first social worker to manage the Navy Medical Department's Family Advocacy Program. This program addressed child abuse, neglect and family violence. Such a program represented the beginning of the armed services compliance with federal child abuse regulations. During this period, he was also appointed Social Work Special Advisor to the Navy Surgeon General. In this position he provided consultation on the development of the Navy's social work programs, including screening of all social work officers entering the Navy, training programs and liaison with government and national agencies.
From 1985 to 1987 he served as a special Projects Officer for the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Force Management & Personnel) Military Family Resource Center, breaking ground again for social workers in the navy, by developing a career path for others to follow. Dave, as he is referred to, was responsible for a wide range of activities to address family violence in the Department of Defense. He was responsible for a major revision of the Department of Defense policy on family violence that formed the basis for a uniform, state of the art approach to family violence. This effort included providing technical assistance to the Army and the Air Force in implementing Department of Defense policy, thus resulting in uniform, state of the art programs. During this time he was appointed as an original member of the National Association of Social Workers Commission on Families and Primary Associations.
From 1987 to 1991 he served as head of the Social Work Department at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, the Navy's largest social work department. He was successful in getting the Office of Personnel Management to approve the upgrade of the majority of civilian social work positions based on a comparative study of the social work and psychology series. This action provided official recognition of the professionally independent practice of social work in that hospital setting. He was known for recruiting civilian social workers throughout and mentoring their careers. While stationed at Bethesda, CAPT Kennedy was the first social worker to deploy for an extended period of time as part of the medical team aboard the U.S.S. Mercy.
CAPT Kennedy was known for being on a fast career track that lead to many administrative military opportunities. He was also respected for putting the development of the social work community before his own personal career development. He selected an overseas tour, which placed him in Rota Spain, from 1991 to 1994. As a social worker, he moved into top level administrative positions, previously held by physicians and public health administrators. As an example, he served as Chief of Ancillary Services and the head of the social work department for the U.S. Naval Hospital. In this position he was responsible for the pharmacy, radiology, laboratory, social work and pathology departments, the largest service at the hospital. During this tour, he led a psychiatric team that successfully completed a Critical Incident Stress Debriefing on board a deployed Navy ship the result was that negative responses following a tragic accident were greatly reduced. He also served as the National Association of Social Workers International Chapter, Southern European Representative, during this time.
From 1994 to 1998 he returned to the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery as a senior health care analyst and led the effort to delineate the relative responsibilities among a number of specialties including social work, psychology, psychiatry, optometry and, ophthalmology.
Kennedy retired from active naval service in 2004 from Naval Medical Clinic Patuxent River Maryland where he served as the Executive Officer (second in command), another first top level position for social workers in the navy. He was the first social worker in the Navy to hold a position in executive medicine and was responsible for the daily operation of a 200 staff family practice clinic serving nearly 12,000 beneficiaries. He remains today, the only social worker in the navy to have reached this career level.
He has been awarded the Legion of Merit, the Defense Meritorious Service medal, three Meritorious Service medals, and the Navy Commendation Medal and was named as Department of the Navy Social Worker of the Year in 1998.
He has practiced in public agencies, developed federal programs, provided leadership and coordination between the military and civilian communities, and demonstrated the broad scope and level of social work.
David is currently the Project Director, for RehabPlusStaffing Group, Inc., Greenbelt, Maryland. Again, he has developed an opportunity to place social workers in a wide range of direct service position, increasing the scope and levels of social work practice.