Jeffrey Yarvis, PhD, LCSW, ACSW, BCD, served in the U.S. Army for 35 years, in a career characterized by many firsts in his field. His trailblazing career as a selfless leader, passionate educator, and prolific author has paved the road for others to follow as a heroic role model in the profession.
His firsts began early in his career when he expressed strong advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community in a time when serving openly was prohibited. Yarvis established the first “Safe Zone” for this community, which helped lead to the abolishment of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy, allowing thousands of Service Members to serve openly in a more inclusive and dynamic military.
He was the first officer to develop military curriculum on Combat Stress Control, Suicide Prevention, Harm Reduction, and Cross-cultural Communication which is still utilized to this day to prevent battle fatigue and promote resiliency.
Yarvis became the Army’s first aeromedical social worker, pioneering social work’s way into military aviation so that the services would gain a better understanding of the psychological impact of flight and flight stress on aircrews and their families. Now, every aviation brigade in the Army must have a uniformed social worker assigned to it.
Yarvis deployed to Iraq in 2005 as the first military social worker to become a civil affairs officer. He developed the medical engagement strategy for Iraq and was the principal liaison to the Surgeon General of the Iraqi Armed Forces and the U.S. State Department Health Attaché. He established the first military practiced-based research network at the Uniformed Services University which set treatment standards and expectations across the military for all Behavioral Health Officers to follow.
In 2009, Yarvis became the first social worker in the history of the Army to become a deputy commander who helped establish Fort Belvoir Community Hospital. As the Vice-president and Chair of a directorate with full-spectrum psychiatric services, he provided leadership and oversight on design development of the National Intrepid Center of Excellence Satellite for Traumatic Brain Injury. These services still represent the model of social work health care delivery in the Department of Defense today.
In 2013, he become the first deputy commanding officer of a medical center and led the opening of a 145-inpatient bed capacity with a level III certified trauma center and level II Neonatal ICU for a beneficiary population of over 100,000 people. Yarvis became the first social worker to attend the US Army War College and complete a degree in National Strategic Studies. He became the first social worker in the history of the Army to command a combat support hospital and led the Army’s largest mobile field hospital comprised of 248-beds while ensuring they were ready to deploy at moment’s notice. He subsequently was the first social worker to command a medical brigade comprised of five combat support hospitals and nearly 3,000 medical soldiers dispersed across four states.
During his hospital commands, soldiers deployed to nearly every part of the world, performing life-saving activities in combat and humanitarian missions. After nearly 35 years of service, Yarvis retired from the military in 2021 as a pathfinder who changed the career trajectory of Military Social Work by establishing firsts within the field.
In addition to the many firsts throughout his career, he is known as a leader, clinician, life-long educator, and author who championed the tired, gave voice to the unheard, provided shelter to the homeless, and advocated for the underserved and underrepresented.
In 1994, during the military coup, Yarvis deployed to Haiti where he quickly mobilized humanitarian resources and coordinated aid by way of non-governmental organizations, charitable organizations, and local hospitals. He was recognized by the Haitian government for his life-saving initiatives and received the Humanitarian Service Medal and the United Nations Medal.
A year later, he deployed to Bosnia and faced cross-cultural challenges and the ill-effects of genocide. He organized resources and worked with European leaders to identify and remove landmines to help protect the population from physical threats. Additionally, he addressed emotional and psychological dangers, while helping the local and military populations heal from the moral injuries suffered from witnessing the incredible evils associated with ethnic cleansing and group violence.
Yarvis’s work on subthreshold PTSD remains the most definitive text on the topic and he has published and presented nationally and internationally over 200 times as an advocate for reintegration after sustaining psychological combat wounds. In 2005, as the Department of Defense’s Civil Affairs representative in Iraq, he secured $70 million in Overseas Humanitarian Disaster and Civic Aid for Iraqi Medical Infrastructure Development and Education Programs. He was recognized for his efforts with a commendation from the Surgeon General of the Iraqi Armed Forces.
Yarvis simultaneously served as an adjunct professor of Social Work, Psychiatry, and Psychology programs since 1986 to over 21 nationally-ranked Universities across the United States. Highlights of his academic career include service on the Council of Social Work Education (CSWE) Military Social Work Committee, where he helped create Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards for the military social work curricula. He also helped numerous universities begin military social work programs which enabled social workers to be trained to work in this often-misunderstood business sector.
Yarvis spearheaded the inclusion of military social work in the CSWE, National Association of Social Workers, and Society of Social Work Research national meetings, creating awareness to the unique challenges and needs of military veterans and their families for the general social work professional community. In addition, he researched and wrote about the impact of secondary trauma on social work providers with veterans in the area of self-care. There is no other candidate that has influenced military and veterans social work as greatly since military social work’s founding mothers and fathers established the military occupational specialty of social work officer.
Born in 1965 in Morristown, New Jersey. He and his wife, Laura, of 23 years have two children: Jacob, a senior social work major at the University of Texas, and a social justice-minded daughter Olivia at Northwestern University. Family is his core value.
Yarvis earned a PhD in Social Work from the University of Georgia, MSW in Clinical Social Work from Boston College, MS in Executive Leadership from Norwich University, MEd in the Integrated Study of Curriculum and Instruction from Cambridge College, MS in National Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College, and a BA in Psychology and Criminal Justice from Indiana University. He has been described by those around him as a visionary, honest, ethical, big-hearted servant leader who inspires teamwork, coalition building, and a passion for success.
Significant Achievements and Awards
Yarvis’ civilian and military awards include:
- 2017 Global Health & Pharma Excellence Award in Veterans PTSD Research, 2015
- DiversityMBA.org-Top 50 Executives Under 50, 2008
- Uniformed Social Worker of the Year, 2007
- U.S. Army Social Worker of the Year, 1997
- International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (Bell/Coyell County Chapter) Mental Health Professional of the Year, 1996
- Social Work Consultant to the Army Surgeon General’s Social Worker of the Year, Military Alpha Designator as a Scholar in Social Work.
At the culmination of the military career, he was presented the Armed Force’s seventh-highest award, the Legion of Merit, and has previously earned the Bronze Star Medal, and the Combat Action Badge for valor in a combat zone. Yarvis was awarded the coveted Order of Military Medical Merit for his significant contributions to advance Social Work within Military Medicine. He holds Board Certifications in Clinical Social Work and Psychotherapy. He is a member of the Phi Kappa Phi, Omicron Delta Pi, and SALUTE National Honor Societies and was also elected to the Randolph High School (NJ) Hall of Fame for his International Humanitarian Efforts.
Yarvis advanced the social work profession through research and collaboration with over 152 colleagues to publish 64 peer-reviewed publications, 21 co-authored books, and 10 invited publications. His work covers a wide range of social work topics involving behavioral health treatment, research, social work policy, and military doctrine. After nearly 35 years of military social work service, he recently co-authored the book, Combat Social Work: Applying the Lessons of War to the Realities Human Services, which captures the years of his pioneering service and the experiences of the women and men who have served as America’s military social workers. Below are only a few highlights of Yarvis’ many publications:
- Foa, E.B., McLean, C.P., Zang, Y., Rosenfield, D., Yadin, E., Yarvis, J.S., Mintz, J., Young-McCaughan, S., Borah, E.V., Dondanville, K.A., Fina, B, A., Hall-Clark, B.N., Lichner, T., Litz, B,T., Roache, J., Wright, E.C., Peterson, A.L., & the STRONG STAR Consortium. (2018) Efficacy of 2-week Massed Prolonged Exposure for PTSD among Active-Duty Military Personnel. Journal of the American Medical Association, 319(4), 354-364.
- Yarvis, J.S. (2013) The Intimacy of Trauma. Reflections: Narratives of Professional Helping 19 (3), 20-27. ISSN: 1080-0220
- Yarvis, J.S., Yoon, E., Ameuke, M., Simien-Turner, & Landers, G.D. (2012). Assessment of PTSD in older veterans: The posttraumatic stress disorder checklist: Military version (PCL-M). Advances in Social Work, 13(1).
- Yarvis, J.S., (2011) A Civilian Social Worker’s Guide to the Treatment of War-Induced PTSD. Social Work in Health Care (50) 1.
- Yarvis, J. (2008) Subthreshold PTSD in Veterans with Different Levels of Traumatic Stress: Implications for Prevention and Treatment with Populations with PTSD. Saarbrucken, Germany: VDM Verlag Dr. Muller Publishers, ISBN- 978-3-639-08332-3.
- Yarvis, J., Nackerud, L., Sabin, M., & Pandit, K. (2004) “Intergenerational Trauma Transmission, Acculturation and Ethnic Identity: Case Studies on the Legacy of Migration and Diaspora of the Haitian People.” Caribbean Journal of Social Work (3): University of West Indies, Jamaica.
Current projects include a publication stemming from his involvement with the International Military Social Work Working Group with 28 member countries and research on Moral Injury.