7 Counseling Options for Service Members and Their Families

The Department of Defense provides all active duty service members, active duty National Guard and reserve members, DoD civilian personnel designated as civilian expeditionary workforce members and their families with a variety of counseling services and suicide prevention programs, many of them at no cost. The services conduct mandatory screenings for mental health conditions and other health concerns via the Post Deployment Health Reassessment within six months of return from overseas deployments. Installation support programs also provide referrals for assessment, treatment, suicide prevention and other counseling services as needed. In addition to speaking with their medic, corpsman, medical officer or primary care manager, service members and their families have many options for getting the help they seek.

Military counseling services

Your installation's chaplain — The chaplains in military units and commands are also trained counselors attuned to military lifestyle issues and prepared to offer confidential, professional assistance and referral services.

Combat stress control teams — Combat stress control teams are available as a field resource to support the mental and emotional well-being of service members during deployments. These teams of mental health professionals are embedded with units to help service members address concerns in the field at any time and offer unlimited interactions at no cost to the service member. The teams are able to assess suicide risk and arrange for emergency care if needed. Combat stress control teams have been used in many wars to provide immediate, on-site support to help service members stay with their units whenever possible.

Non-medical counseling resources — There are two primary resources for non-medical counseling services: Military One Source and the Military and Family Life Counseling program. Non-medical counseling programs provide confidential, short-term counseling to active duty members, National Guard and reserve service members (regardless of their activation status) and their families. Department of Defense civilian personnel designated as civilian expeditionary workforce members and their families are also eligible for the Military OneSource and MFLC programs. Counselors possess a master's or doctorate degree in a mental health field and are licensed or certified in a state, territory or the District of Columbia to practice independently. Non-medical counseling is designed to address issues such as improving relationships at home and work, stress management, adjustment issues (for example, returning from a deployment), marital problems, parenting, and grief and loss issues. These personal sessions are available in three formats:

  • Face-to-face — Through either Military OneSource or the MFLC program, you can see a licensed counselor or therapist in your local community. Visit Military OneSource or call 800-342-9647 for more information. You can also ask the installation's Army Community Service, Marine Corps Community Services, Navy Fleet and Family Support Center or Airman and Family Readiness Center about the process for using MFLCs.
  • By telephone — If you cannot or choose not to meet in person with a counselor in your area, Military OneSource will arrange for a telephonic non-medical counseling session.
  • Online — If you would rather speak with a non-medical counseling provider online, Military OneSource can arrange for your counseling sessions to be held in a secure online, real-time "chat" format.

These services are offered at no cost to service members and their families, including Guard and reserve members. National Guardsmen and reservists may also access counseling services through their private health insurance providers and through their local community mental health services.

Non-medical counseling is not designed to address long-term issues such as child abuse or neglect, domestic violence, suicidal ideation and mental health issues. Mental health issues involve situations meeting the diagnostic criteria for common mental disorders found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - Fifth Edition. If risk for suicide or other mental health issues are identified during the course of counseling with a Military OneSource counselor or an MFLC, clients will be referred to a military treatment facility, TRICARE or local community resource for immediate professional, medical mental health treatment.

The Family Advocacy Program — The Family Advocacy Program is another supportive resource for service members and their families. Issues related to deployment and other life stressors can cause significant problems in relationships and family functioning, sometimes contributing to domestic violence and child abuse. The Family Advocacy Program assesses, refers and provides counseling for families experiencing domestic violence or child abuse. If FAP identifies someone as suicidal, they refer the individual to an MTF, TRICARE or local community resource for immediate professional, medical mental health treatment.

TRICARE or your nearest MTF Therapy services may be available through TRICARE, either at an MTF or through a network provider in your area. Your primary care manager can refer you to appropriate counseling or you may contact your regional Managed Care Support Contractor. If you are using TRICARE, make sure you understand what services TRICARE covers and any co-payments you may be responsible for.

United States Department of Veterans Affairs counseling at Vet Centers The VA provides counseling services to assess and treat mental health issues. Veterans Centers have specifically trained suicide-prevention staff and offer free readjustment counseling to combat veterans and their families, including those still on active duty. The services are provided at more than 200 community-based Veterans Centers by counselors who are specially trained to understand the issues service members and their families face.

Outside military support channels — If you choose to seek counseling support through a civilian provider, make sure you understand the associated costs before you begin a treatment program. Service members may have co-pays, determined by the type of plan and service required. Community mental health services often use a sliding scale for fees, basing the fee on the client's ability to pay. As a service member, you will also want to consider your responsibility to report counseling to your command.

Understanding your rights to privacy

Whether through a military support service or a private therapist, your counselor should explain the limits of privacy. If he or she doesn't, be sure to ask. That said, all counselors, military or civilian, are ethically and legally bound to safeguard client confidentiality within the confines of safety and security-threat disclosure.

Family members may use counseling services without the notice or consent of the service member. For service members or their families seeking counseling through military support channels, those services are confidential. The only exceptions to confidentiality are for mandatory state, federal and military reporting requirements (for example, domestic violence, child abuse and duty to warn situations). Even then, only those who need to be notified will be informed.


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