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Anonymous Army rehab program gains support

 

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The Army is expanding a pilot program that allows soldiers to seek help for alcohol and drug abuse without notifying their commands, Army officials said.

A six-month review of the Confidential Alcohol Treatment and Education pilot program at three Army bases received favorable reviews from counselors and most of the 157 soldiers who volunteered under an agreement that treatment would not adversely affect their careers.

The pilot program will expand to six bases and continue for at least another six months before any decisions are made on whether to extend the program overseas, Army officials said.

Last year, some 9,200 soldiers entered treatment for alcohol problems, a 56 percent increase since the start of the Iraq War in 2003, according to Army records released earlier this year.

However, the majority of those who enter the Army Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program have no choice, as they were referred by their commands after getting into trouble. That has given the program a stigma that has dissuaded soldiers from voluntarily asking for help.

“It was a career killer,” said James Slobodzien, director of the Army Substance Abuse Program at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, one of the first three pilot sites. “Maybe not the first time here, but the second time, you were on the way out.”

Nearly 40 percent of patients who volunteered for the pilot program at the three sites were noncommissioned officers or officers. Those ranks make up just 23 percent of the patients the traditional program has served.

The pilot project will continue at Schofield Barracks and at the other two original sites, Fort Lewis, Wash., and Fort Richardson, Alaska, said Army Pentagon spokesman Hank Minitrez.

The program was slated to begin at Fort Carson, Colo., on Aug. 1 and will start at Fort Riley, Kan. on Sept. 1 and Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., on Oct. 1.

Despite the guarantee of anonymity, 40 percent of the soldiers who have participated chose to formally notify their commanders, according to a May study of the pilot project’s results. Those who told their commands were still protected from any possible adverse action.

Soldiers enrolled in the Confidential Alcohol Treatment and Education pilot program have not been subject to having their records flagged or their promotions deferred — consequences that soldiers who enter the traditional program still face. And soldiers who fail the traditional Army Substance Abuse Program treatment normally are separated from the Army, according to the May report.

“I think what everybody learned is that there are individuals out there who will come forth to get help if presented with the right opportunities, lacking negative consequences,” Slobodzien said.

Stars and Stripes reporter Teri Weaver contributed to this report. slavine@pstripes.osd.mil

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