Fort Hood, Tex. and Piscataway, N.J. — The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey will provide a toll-free, 24-hour confidential helpline dedicated specifically to assisting Fort Hood soldiers and their families beginning Feb. 1.
The new helpline is staffed by veterans who are carefully trained as peer counselors employed by UMDNJ.
UMDNJ has operated a helpline for New Jersey veterans since 2005 and has developed a strong track record assisting veterans, soldiers and family members with a range of problems. The expansion of these services to personnel based at Fort Hood comes as the Army seeks to provide additional support for soldiers and their families.
The new helpline service is called Vets4Warriors and is designed to assist active duty soldiers and their families as they cope with the rigors of military life.
The helpline is part of a comprehensive support effort for servicemen and women and their families seeking assistance dealing with issues ranging from thoughts of suicide, stress reactions and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), to marital and financial matters.
In addition to serving Fort Hood active duty soldiers and their families, Vets4Warriors will be available to all military personnel in the central Texas region.
The Vets4Warriors helpline operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Callers to the helpline (1-855-838-8255) speak directly with a veteran counselor employed by the University who is located at the headquarters of UMDNJ's University Behavioral HealthCare division (UBHC) in Piscataway, New Jersey, and assigned exclusively to this initiative with Fort Hood.
Alternatively, soldiers and their families can communicate with veteran peer counselors via the Internet using live chat, similar to instant messaging.
It is important to note that Vets4Warriors goes beyond simple peer support to callers. The peer counselor will work with a soldier or family member who calls for as long as it takes for resolution of the issues that led to the call. Potentially, these follow-up phone contacts could continue for months, if necessary. Vets4Warriors also provides case management services and referrals, as deemed appropriate, through a comprehensive local network of mental health providers.
U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), long a supporter of UMDNJ's helpline, underscored his commitment to a nationwide expansion.
"This helpline is a model of success that has saved lives and aided thousands of New Jersey military members, veterans and their loved ones during difficult times," Sen. Lautenberg stated. "By expanding this service to the brave men and women of Fort Hood, UMDNJ is taking an important step to demonstrate that this model can help military communities across the country. "As we watch this critical program grow, I will continue my work to make it available on a national level so all of our service men and women can receive this critical support," he added.
Col. (Dr.) Steven E. Braverman, commander, Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center at Fort Hood, explained the program's appeal.
"Clearly, our soldiers and their families deserve the best possible support systems available," he said. "Those who have served our country are best able to understand the unique challenges of military life and, therefore, are the ideal support system for active duty families. We welcome this partnership with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey to support our troops."
UMDNJ's UBHC and the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs collaborated in developing UMDNJ's innovative veterans helpline for New Jerseyans in 2005 as a system of outreach to soldiers and their families based on peer-to-peer contact. It was designed as an early intervention for veterans suffering from psychological or emotional distress as they sought to assimilate back into civilian life.
The success of its veterans helpline led to an expansion of behavioral services that UMDNJ provides to New Jersey soldiers, including behavioral evaluations prior to deployment and at critical points following their return home.
In making the announcement, Dr. William F. Owen, Jr., UMDNJ president, credited New Jersey's commitment to the veterans for much of the national attention the issue is receiving. "It has meant a great deal to the University to have the significant support of the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
"It has allowed us to help New Jersey innovate in the provision of care for our combat veterans and their families," added Dr. Owen. "We are proud and eager to share our knowledge and expertise in an effort to help Fort Hood's servicemen and women deal with the enormous pressures associated with military life."
Growing evidence suggests that UMDNJ's veterans helpline is making a difference. A significant number of New Jerseyans deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan are members of the New Jersey National Guard, the military population within New Jersey that has been the largest user of the veterans helpline. While neighboring states have lost significant numbers of veterans to suicide, the New Jersey National Guard has not had any veterans commit suicide in the six years UMDNJ's helpline has existed.
"Unfortunately, the suicide rate among the military has risen dramatically in the past eight years," pointed out Christopher Kosseff, CEO of UMDNJ's University Behavioral HealthCare. "Today, a veteran is twice as likely to commit suicide as someone who has never served. The reasons are complex and only now are being investigated. New Jersey's younger veterans are therefore fortunate that the State has led the country in developing this important service. We are honored to be able to provide this additional support to our soldiers and their families at Fort Hood."
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