NASW Pioneers Biography Index

The National Association of Social Workers Foundation is pleased to present the NASW Social Work Pioneers®. NASW Pioneers are social workers who have explored new territories and built outposts for human services on many frontiers. Some are well known, while others are less famous outside their immediate colleagues, and the region where they live and work. But each one has made an important contribution to the social work profession, and to social policies through service, teaching, writing, research, program development, administration, or legislation.

The NASW Pioneers have paved the way for thousands of other social workers to contribute to the betterment of the human condition; and they are are role models for future generations of social workers. The NASW Foundation has made every effort to provide accurate Pioneer biographies.  Please contact us at to provide missing information, or to correct inaccurate information. It is very important to us to correctly tell these important stories and preserve our history.  

Please note, an asterisk attached to a name reflects Pioneers who have passed away. All NASW Social Work Pioneers® Bios are Copyright © 2021 National Association of Social Workers Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

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Peter Delany
Peter Delany

Peter J. Delany

Pioneering Contributions

Peter J. Delany, PhD, MSW an Assistant Surgeon General in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, is the senior-ranking social worker in the uniformed services and one of only four social workers to achieve the two-star rank insignia worn by rear admirals (upper half). During a civilian and uniformed services career spanning more than 32 years, he has been a pioneer in several fields of social work practice. As described below, Delany was the first and only social worker to develop and implement the Social Work Research Development Program at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institutes of Health (NIH).

He established and was the first social worker to lead a statistical unit at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). He was the senior social worker leading the development of mental health deployment teams for the Commissioned Corps and served as the commander of one of the newly established mental health teams. Finally, Delany was the first social worker to serve as a special advisor in the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Commissioned as a lieutenant in 1992, Delany was assigned as a scientist in the newly created Services Research Branch at NIDA. His skills were quickly recognized and he soon took on increasingly responsible roles, eventually serving as the first deputy director of a newly created Division of Epidemiology, Services, and Prevention Research, which integrated these critical areas of research for the first time and was responsible for coordinating approximately 15 percent of NIDA's research budget.

While serving at NIH, Delany developed and managed a number of innovative research programs designed to stimulate creative approaches to treating substance use outside of the specialty treatment sector. His work has had significant impact on substance use services and research programs. These include the implementation of research on the organization, financing, and management of care as part of the congressionally mandated Health Services Research Program. These research programs served as a catalyst for a number of innovative research studies and their findings continue to serve as the foundation for ongoing prevention and treatment services in the field of substance use.

He was also the author and staff officer for the Social Work Research Development Program that established a number of social work research centers across the country. He established this program which, by design, helped build a stable infrastructure for drug abuse research within schools of social work and strengthened interdisciplinary participation across universities to improve the quality of prevention and treatment services. His pioneering work at NIDA, which provided a strong foundation that has trained a generation of social work researchers funded by NIH to carry out treatment and health services research in the field of substance use and a number of other social work priority areas.

Delany also helped to develop the National Criminal Justice Drug Abuse Treatment Services System Cooperative Research Project and served as a collaborating scientist on this nationally recognized research partnership. This innovative effort has expanded the field of health services research into the criminal justice system and incorporated significant data collection aimed at understanding the impact of the correctional environment on the treatment system and individuals who correctional supervision. Many of the findings from this program have been cited in policies that have expanded the use of re-entry services and evidenced-based programming in community corrections programs.

Career Highlights

In 2008, Delany transferred to SAMHSA, serving as a senior research scientist. He was selected as the director of the Office of Applied Studies and in 2010 established and served as the first director of the new Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (CBHSQ), the federal government's lead agency for behavioral health statistics as designated by the Office of Management and Budget. As director of CBHSQ, Delany provided direction to a staff of more than 70 researchers and was responsible for more than $500 million in data collection and analytic contracts. He also led SAMHSA's Strategic Initiative on Data, Outcomes, and Quality designed to promote a coordinated use of data to improve the quality and outcomes of behavioral health services.

Since 2015, Delany has served as the Special Advisor for Data and Policy in the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Executive Office of the President, leading the development of data and analytic policy with primary oversight for the 2016 National Drug Control Strategy and coordinating responses to the emerging crises of opioids and synthetic drugs. More recently, he has provided support to the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis and the Domestic Policy Council charged with advising the Administration on policies and practices for addressing drug use in the United States.

During the course of his Commissioned Corps career, RADM Delany has deployed many times, providing disaster mental health services with the PHS-1 Disaster Medical Assistance Team, a precursor to today's Commissioned Corps deployment teams. He served as PHS-1's Chief Mental Health Officer leading a team of 10 clinicians who provided support to first responders and survivors during natural disasters. He also served as the key mental health consultant to Commissioned Corps officers who responded to the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina. He continues to keep in touch with these officers.

RADM Delany served as one of the architects of the concept for and structure of the Commissioned Corps' Mental Health Teams that deploy within 48 hours of any event and provide critical services to individuals experiencing emotional trauma related to disaster response. He served as the first team lead of Mental Health Team 1.
As the senior-most social worker in the uniformed services, RADM Delany is the de facto leader of uniformed services social work. In 1997, he served as chair of the Social Work Professional Advisory Group (SWPAG), the organization that advises the Health Services Chief Professional Officer and the Surgeon General on matters regarding the profession within the Commissioned Corps.  He also has served several terms as SWPAG's senior advisor.

Dr. Delany is committed to transferring the knowledge gained from his pioneering experience to the next generation of social workers. He has served as an adjunct faculty member at the National Catholic School of Social Service, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and more recently at the George Mason University teaching courses on human behavior, social statistics and research, social work theory and practice, generalist practice. He also has served as a social work field educator and as a member of several dissertation committees.

Biographical Information

Born in suburban Maryland, Delany received his bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Maryland in 1982, his master' s degree in social work in 1984, and his PhD in social work from the Catholic University of America in 1993.  He has been married for 27 years to his wife Martha and served happily as chief chauffer for his son during the many years playing team hockey and his daughter's career as a competitive Irish dancer.

Significant Recognition and Awards

RADM Delany has received a number of Commissioned Corps individual honor awards and unit awards, including the Outstanding Service Medal. the Achievement Medal, and the Presidential Unit Citation. He also has been recognized with the NASW Foundation's Knee/Wittman Outstanding Achievement Award, the Hubert H. Humphrey Award for Service to America, and the Legacy Leader Award from the National Association of Deans and Directors of Schools of Social Work. He has authored or co-authored more than 20 peer-reviewed publications, book chapters, and articles, and has presented at numerous local, state, national, and international conferences. His most significant publications are:

Significant Publications and Technical Reports

  • Lynch, S.E., Greeno, C.G., Teich, J. & Delany, P.J. (2016). Opportunities for social work under the Affordable Care Act: A call for action. Social Work in Health Care, 55(9), 651-674.
  • Shields, J.J., Delany, P.J., & Smith, K.E. (2015). Factors related to the delivery of trauma services in outpatient treatment programs. Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions, 15(1), 114-129. doi: I0.1080/1533256X.2014.996230.
  • Delany, P.J., & Shields, J.J. (2012). Parity for mental health and substance use disorders. In E. Clark & E. Hoffman (Eds.), Social work matters: The power of/inking po/icy and practice (pp. 299-305). Washington, DC: NASW Press. 
  • Delany, P.J., Shields, J.J., & Roberts, D.L. (2009). Program and client characteristics as predictors of the availability of social support services in community-based substance abuse treatment programs. The Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research, 36(4), 450-464. 
  • Delany, P.J., Shields, J.J., Willenbring, M.L., & Huebner, R.B. (2008). Expanding the role of health services research to reduce the public health burden of alcohol use disorders. Substance Use and Misuse, 43(12-13), 1729-46.
  • Compton, W.M., Glantz, M., & Delany, P.J. (2003). Addiction as a chronic illness - putting the concept into action. Evaluation and Program Planning, 26(3), 353-354.

Newly Inducted NASW Social Work Pioneer Hortense McClinton 2015

Nominate A New NASW Pioneer

Please note, Pioneer nominations made between today’s date through March 31, 2023, will not be reviewed until spring 2023.

Completed NASW Pioneer nominations can be submitted throughout the year and are reviewed at the June Pioneer Steering Committee Meeting. To be considered at the June meeting, submit your nomination package by March 31. To learn more, visit our Pioneer nomination guidelines.

New Pioneers 

Congratulations newly elected Pioneers!  Pioneers will be inducted at the 2023  Annual Program and Luncheon. Full biographies and event details coming soon.