N.J. helpline expands to reach troops in Texas

    The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey has expanded its mental health helpline for military members. The new “Vets4Warriors” will provide assistance to soldiers stationed in Fort Hood, Texas.

    Researchers have found that as many as 50 percent of soldiers coming back from battle have mental health issues. The 24/7 helpline is intended to help the 150,000 soldiers and families stationed at Fort Hood with some of those issues.

    Mark Salzer of Temple University’s Department of Rehabilitation Sciences said the military trains soldiers to “pull themselves up by their boot straps and march on.” He said that training acts as an extra barrier for troops to seek help from base counselors.

    “That’s another benefit of things like the helpline is that they are anonymous,” he said. “This is a strategy that increases access and increases engagement for people like soldiers who might otherwise be reluctant to reach out for help like this.”

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    For five years, the UMDNJ’s “Vet2Vet” program has offered confidential advice and support to members of the National Guard and their families. The success of the 24/7 helpline inspired the expansion.

    Program coordinator Chuck Arnold, who has served in Korea and Vietnam, said the helpline is staffed by trained veteran counselors.

    “Veterans understand other veterans, and veterans calling in to the helpline like to know who they’re talking to understands them,” he said. “Sometimes you can call a clinician and they can give you mental health advice, but they don’t understand the uniqueness of being in a combat zone or having family problems in the military.”

    Fort Hood does have mental health personnel, but Arnold said soldiers often hesitate to ask for help. Last year, there were 22 suicides at Fort Hood, more than double the number in 2009.

    Salzer researches peer-to-peer support for veterans. He said there is a lot of good information that shows it’s effective.

    “In my experience in working in the VA with veterans, there really is a brotherhood and sisterhood that gets developed by being in the military,” he said. “They have to support one another. They have to have each other’s back and it really creates a different connection than even peers who are experiencing mental health issues who are not veterans.”

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