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National Mental Health Groups Sign on to Help Troops, Families

By Army Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy
Special to American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Nov. 10, 2008 – Four major U.S. mental health groups have joined the network of professionals who donate an hour of their time each week to provide free mental health services to servicemembers and their families.

The American Association of Pastoral Counselors, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association and the National Association of Social Workers are now part of the “Give an Hour” nonprofit group.

For many of the volunteers, it is a way to give back to those who have served overseas.

“We can honor our veterans,” said Dr. Donald Arthur, senior vice president for medical affairs and chief medical officer of Main Line Health Systems, part of the Give an Hour network.

“Every week we can give an hour of our time and say thank you by listening and helping to heal the absolutely normal effects of the extraordinary circumstance of combat,” Arthur said. “Combat stress is normal.”

Being able to heal from the effects of combat may be difficult for some Guard and Reserve members, who may not live near a military or Department of Veterans Affairs medical facility.

“We know that the military and the VA have expanded their programs for mental health and substance abuse treatment, but much more needs to be done,” said Dr. Carolyn Rabinowitz, immediate past president of the American Psychiatric Association.

“Resources are stretched to the limit,” Rabinowitz said. “The mental health personnel from the bases have been deployed to be embedded with the troops, and veterans from the Guard and Reserve may go back… to neighborhoods in which there aren’t sufficient choices.”

According to a Rand Corporation report released in April, about 300,000 of the 1 million servicemembers who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan have reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. But those symptoms affect more than just the servicemember.

“Post-traumatic stress, depression and other mental health issues can have a devastating effect on those who serve in the military and their families,” Rabinowitz said.

And while military members may be able to receive care through the military or VA, many times their parents, siblings or an unmarried partner are not entitled to those benefits. They can find help through the Give an Hour network.

One of the goals of the group is to provide easy access to mental health professionals for those affected, including the servicemember’s family, by the current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen Romberg, founder and president of Give an Hour.

Give an Hour now has almost 3,000 licensed mental health professionals in its network, covering all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

(Army Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy serves at the National Guard Bureau.)

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