FIG1Retired psychiatrist Daniel
Benor, M.D., stands ready to donate an hour a week to American troops and
their families who need help with the psychological reverberations of the wars
in Iraq and Afghanistan. Benor is just one of a thousand mental health
professionals who have signed up with Give an Hour, an organization founded to
fill the gaps in mental health care for military personnel and their loved
Clinical psychologist Barbara Romberg, Ph.D., is the founder of Give an
Photo courtesy of Give an Hour
Although the U.S. armed services offer a variety of mental health services,
some troops have difficulty accessing them, especially those in the National
Guard or Reserve who live far from military bases, founder Barbara Romberg,
Ph.D., a psychologist in private practice in Washington, D.C., told
Psychiatric News. Others may prefer discussing their concerns with
someone outside the military system, fearing adverse effects on their careers.
Still others may not live near providers authorized by TRICARE, the Pentagon's
contract health system; may not be covered for some services; or can't get
care when they need it.
For instance, TRICARE does not cover marital counseling even if the primary
patient receives individual therapy under its plan, said Romberg.
She also cited the case of a young man distraught over the death of his
uncle in Iraq. Officially, the nephew was not closely related enough to
receive care in the military system, but Give an Hour's definition of"
family" is more flexible, and the organization connected him with
an appropriate provider.
The program also helped a wife worried about her husband and arranged for
them to get counseling through their church. One provider even received an
e-mail from a captain serving in Iraq asking for help.
"Our goal is not to replace the existing systems available to our
troops, but to be an additional resource when those are insufficient or
unavailable," she said.
Benor offers some directly applicable experience beyond his training. He
served as a psychiatrist in the Air Force during the Vietnam War era and
expects that his knowledge of military culture will help him now.
"Since uniformed therapists' records are open to unit commanders,
many military people prefer to seek care from outside the system than
inside," he said.
Counselor David Beigel, M.S., of Falls Church, Va., has met for over three
months with the wife and two children of a soldier serving in Iraq, helping
them cope with the father's absence, their worries about his safety, and
tensions between the siblings.
"I was horrified by how Vietnam veterans were vilified by both
opponents and supporters of that war, so I am ready to do anything I can so
that this generation will not have to face the same experiences," Beigel
told Psychiatric News.
Give an Hour is now working with the Department of Defense, the Department
of Veterans Affairs, the National Guard Family Program, and others to
publicize the program. An article in the April issue of Ladies' Home
Journal details Give an Hour's approach.
APA has agreed to support the organization, the first major medical
association to do so. APA's Healthy Minds, Healthy Lives Web site will soon
contain pages informing viewers about Give an Hour.
"Regardless of their views on the war, the great majority of
Americans support the troops who have served and their families, but the
system isn't set up to handle the need," said APA President Carolyn
Robinowitz, M.D., in an interview. "All of us are looking for ways to be
helpful. One answer is to volunteer for an hour a week, and I would encourage
psychiatrists to consider Give an Hour as one way to provide needed
Besides asking members to volunteer, APA is also assisting Give an Hour by
helping it raise funds to produce public service announcements to increase
awareness of the program, said Paul Burke, executive director of the American
Psychiatric Foundation. Burke, who will guide APA's part of the fundraising
effort, plans to seek corporate and foundation support for the
APA will also emphasize military mental health during Mental Health Month
So far, roughly equal numbers of psychologists and social workers, and
somewhat fewer psychiatrists, marital therapists, and pastoral counselors,
have signed up. Romberg said that the current total recently topped 1,000
volunteers and hopes that number will eventually swell to 40,000, or about 10
percent of all mental health providers in the United States.
Give an Hour verifies that volunteer providers are in good standing and
licensed by appropriate state regulatory bodies, but other than that, it does
not prescreen providers or potential clients (who Romberg calls"
visitors"). Providers must carry their own malpractice insurance.
However, the program is in the process of applying for status as a free
clinic, which Romberg hopes will permit another layer of coverage for
providers who contribute their services without charge. At present, providers
still have to work within the states in which they are licensed, she said.
She is also working to develop a way for psychiatry residents and other
professionals in training to volunteer under appropriate supervision.
Volunteers must commit to giving their services for an hour a week for a
minimum of one year. They may provide services in face-to-face office visits,
over the phone, or through other institutions like schools. Benor is prepared
for long-distance consultations, having taught de-stressing techniques to his
patients over the phone for several years.
No money changes hands between providers and visitors, said Romberg.
Insurance companies aren't involved, saving time and paperwork. Although the
patients don't pay for the services they receive, they are encouraged to
perform some volunteer service in their own communities as a form of societal
"It's not required, but most are willing, and it also gives people
who have gone through a rough time a sense of competence and mastery,"
Give an Hour has an ongoing relationship with TRICARE, which has offered to
get the word out to its members, said Romberg. Perhaps more mental health
providers in the armed services or affiliated with contractors might be a
preferable solution to the current shortage, said Romberg.
"But that's for someone else to work out," she said. "I'm
coming at this from humanitarian grounds. This is a way that we as citizens
can help soldiers and their families."
The Give an Hour Web site can be accessed at<www.giveanhour.org/cms/index.php>.▪