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From the President
‘Give an Hour’ of Your Time to Help Those Who Serve Our Country
Psychiatric News
Volume 45 Number 20 page 3-3

It is impossible to turn on the television, listen to the radio, or browse the Internet without being reminded of the heavy toll the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are taking on our military service members and their families. As you know, their mental health needs must be addressed, particularly if we are to prevent the kind of societal suffering that followed the Vietnam War.

Reports from within the Department of Defense indicate that service members' mental health continues to be of primary concern to the military leadership. Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, routinely speak out about the need to provide appropriate mental health care for those in the military and their families. The current administration has deemed this issue a matter of national security, and both Michelle Obama and Jill Biden have made supporting military families a primary focus.

While tremendous energy and resources have been allocated by the government, far too many returning troops and family members continue to suffer. The suicide rate among Army soldiers now surpasses that in the civilian population. Recent reports indicate that as many as 35 percent of the men and women returning from duty in Afghanistan or Iraq are experiencing significant mental health difficulties including depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress. In addition, we estimate that similar numbers are reporting signs of traumatic brain injury. Many individuals encounter significant problems with reintegration when they come home; some experience family conflicts, while others turn to substance abuse. Finally, we are seeing a concerning number of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan in the criminal justice system and in homeless shelters.

Unfortunately, returning veterans contending with combat-related stresses are not routinely seeking the mental health treatment they need. Many worry that getting mental health care will jeopardize their career or standing. Given the military culture's emphasis on confidence, strength, and bravery, others are reluctant to expose their vulnerabilities to counselors who are often military personnel themselves.

Psychiatry can and must play a primary role in ameliorating the emerging mental health crisis within the military community. APA has been instrumental in the growth of a national nonprofit organization named Give an Hour (Psychiatric News, March 7, 2008, and May 16, 2008). We have partnered with Give an Hour (GAH) in its effort to provide free mental health care to those who serve and their families. The partnership of APA, the American Psychiatric Foundation, and GAH is an excellent example of how we can apply the knowledge and expertise of psychiatry to educate, inform, and engage with community organizations. To date GAH has recruited more than 5,000 psychiatrists and other licensed mental health professionals to provide free evaluation, treatment, and other services to members of the military, veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, their families, and their communities.

By providing services that are separate from the military establishment, GAH offers an option to men and women who might otherwise fail to seek or receive appropriate services. There is no paperwork to submit to insurance companies and no cost to the patient. Also, there is no limit to the number of sessions one can receive.

In addition to donating direct psychiatric and other mental health services, GAH providers help with outreach and education. By speaking at conferences, participating on panels, and reaching out to the media in their communities, GAH providers help reduce the stigma frequently associated with mental health treatment. GAH also offers immediate access to mental health services to people who do not have access or who might fail to seek help through the military or VA. Parents, siblings, partners, and other loved ones typically not covered by military insurance also can benefit from the professional help that GAH provides.

Our membership has much to offer this outstanding program and similar organizations such as the Soldier's Project in California. Our most senior colleagues have vast knowledge and expertise—whether in the area of combat stress or in treating and assisting family members. Many of us have extensive local networks that could work with GAH to coordinate the communitywide provision of critical services to military families. I would especially like to encourage our early-career psychiatrists to get involved with this effort, engage their communities, and make a difference to our military population. I invite you to join Give an Hour and to let your colleagues know about this opportunity. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments regarding APA's efforts to support the men and women and their families who serve our country. You can learn more about Give an Hour at <www.giveanhour.org>. Information about volunteering your services can be accessed by clicking on "For Providers" on the left side of the homepage. blacksquare

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