Story and photo by Douglas M. Rule
Fort Carson Public Affairs Office
According to Army statistics, last year, Armywide, approximately 103,000 redeploying Soldiers filled out a post-deployment health assessment. Of that, approximately 14,600 self-identified that they thought they might be drinking too much alcohol. Only 400 were referred to the Army Substance Abuse Program.
Dr. Lester McFarling, with Army Personnel at headquarters, Department of the Army, said this was too late. Those 400 were referred because of a serious incident – either driving while under the influence, abuse of a Family member or the like. What the Army would like to happen is that Soldiers seek help before drinking becomes a serious problem.
A possible solution is the Confidential Alcohol Treatment and Education Pilot program currently being tested.
McFarling, along with Wayne Stramer, Dr. Wanda Kuehr and Linda Martinez of the Army Installation Management Command, came to Fort Carson Monday to brief commanders and Soldiers about the program, which starts Monday on post.
According to McFarling, the pilot program started in Fort Richardson, Alaska; Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.; and Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Now the pilot is being expanded to Fort Carson; Fort Riley, Kan.; and Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Carson and Riley were chosen because of the high deployment rate and Leonard Wood as a control as it is primarily a training facility.
The program is entirely voluntary and there is no command notification until the Soldier is ready to do so. Kate Azar, clinical director for Fort Carson ASAP, said a Soldier who feels he or she is abusing alcohol or has an alcohol-related problem can come in to the office, which is in building 6236 on Mekong Street behind the Family Readiness Center, and request to be enrolled in CATEP. A card with the criteria for enrolling in the program is given to the Soldier to review. If the Soldier feels he is eligible, he is given an appointment with a counselor that day. The office is open from 4:30-8 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays and Saturday mornings. Four counselors are on duty and a psychiatrist is available through the ASAP program until 5:30 p.m. weekdays. The phone number is 526-2862.
The counselor and the Soldier figure out a plan of attack. The treatment program can be anywhere from a few weeks to one year. Currently, Stramer said, the program is limited to one year. After that time, the Soldier will have to register in another program as CATEP is designed to only be a short-term solution and not a long-term therapy program.
“I’m really hopeful about this program because I don’t think Soldiers come in before they’re in some kind of trouble,” Azar said. “If we can get them in here before they are in trouble, we can build the support system and build on their internal motivation to not use alcohol as a problem solver.”
CATEP is limited to Soldiers who feel they might have alcohol problems and haven’t been cited for an alcohol-related incident, McFarling said. It is also not for Soldiers who have illegal or prescription drug abuse problems. Additionally, certain groups of Soldiers, such as military policemen, those in the nuclear weapon personnel reliability program, those with high security clearances and those in the aviation field, cannot join in at this time because of the safety and welfare issues inherent to those military occupations. If a commander finds out that a Soldier is in the program, he is responsible to ensure the Soldier’s privacy is maintained unless there is a compelling need, such as a safety issue, to let others in the command chain know after discussing it with the ASAP personnel. Also, alcohol abuse education programs are an integral part of the program as Soldiers may only have a perceived alcohol program and not need in-depth assistance.
Kim Henry, Fort Carson Alcohol and Drug Control officer, said that this will complement the current ASAP program for someone who might feel he needs to talk someone about an alcohol situation before it becomes a big problem, but doesn’t want to affect his career with a flag. She cited the PRIME for Life program as one of the programs they have been using successfully and will integrate into the pilot study here. CATEP personnel will also be working closely with other agencies on post.
“We’ll be talking to the chaplains, military life consultants and hospital personnel,” Henry said. “We also want to bring in the Family Support Groups as well because they are sometimes the first people to notice this issue and say ‘Hey, here’s this program and I want you to know about it.'”
“We’re hoping we can build the trust here,” said Azar. “We think it is going to start slow, like it has at other installations, but then it builds and builds and builds and we are hoping that it does that here.”
The program has serious interest from high up. Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, IMCOM commanding general, is giving it his full support, as well as many local commanders.
Lynch “is very passionate about the program. He wants to make sure that we give Soldiers every opportunity to get treatment,” said Stramer. “He’s very concerned about the high rate of suicides across the Army and wants to make sure that Soldiers who have problems are afforded the opportunity to seek treatment.”
Stramer added that last week Lynch stated that there is no hiring freeze on the ASAP program for hiring staff and IMCOM headquarters is pushing out an operations order directing Fort Carson to hire the staff necessary to make CATEP happen. This will reinforce what the local command – Maj. Gen. David G. Perkins, 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson commanding general, and Col. Robert F. McLaughlin, garrison commander, as well as the brigade commanders – wants to do.
“Gen. Perkins and Col. McLaughlin – anything they can do to help the Soldier, they are on board with,” said Henry. “They are looking at this as another way the Army is trying to help Soldiers that need to seek help and prevent other situations.”
During the briefings at Fort Carson, active discussions took place with the team and the Soldiers, which was the point that brought the team into the field. While some Soldiers were skeptic of how well a volunteer program would work, others reinforced that they thought it was a good idea. One Soldier, while liking the idea of the program to help Soldiers who wanted to help themselves, aired the thought that problem Soldiers – those with disciplinary problems or otherwise unsuitable for military service – might be best released from duty. To this, McFarling reiterated what the program is for.
“Send us your Soldiers with a problem – not your problem Soldiers.”