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Mideast edition, Saturday, August 25, 2007

HEIDELBERG, Germany — The U.S. military community in Europe needs scores more psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and other mental-health experts to deal with war-related stress and other issues, according to the commander of the Europe Regional Medical Command.

Brig. Gen. David Rubenstein, ERMC commander, has asked for 71 more mental-health-care providers for next year. That’s a nearly 50 percent increase from the 152 mental-health providers currently treating clients in ERMC’s 21 hospitals and clinics.

“It’s a sizable increase,” Rubenstein said this week in an interview. “We have to have a more robust (mental-health) staff in Europe. We looked at the need. We have an underserved community.”

He said the number of extra staffers needed was derived from a variety of factors, among them the number of mental-health crises requiring immediate attention, such as suicide attempts, and waiting lists for people not in crisis to get a mental-health appointment.

“We looked at our communities … work that’s being done and isn’t being done,” he said.

Rubenstein’s request to the U.S. Army Medical Command in San Antonio for the increase in providers is part of an Army-wide push for increased attention and responsiveness to mental-health issues.

Almost 20 percent of troops returning from Iraq have reported mental-health problems, and 35 percent of Iraq war veterans accessed mental-health services in the year after returning home, according to an American Medical Association article written by Army doctors and published in March.

It’s not clear how many of the 71 people requested will be provided after the request is reviewed by the medical command. The Army does not have a surplus of psychiatric specialists and is reaching out to civilians.

“It took us almost a year to hire a psychiatrist for one of our communities,” Rubenstein said. “The psychiatrist we hired took a cut in pay. She thought Europe would be a great place to live.”

The situation is more complicated than for other medical specialties because referring Americans with mental-health problems to local, European doctors and counselors isn’t as good an option as referrals within other specialties, such as pediatrics.

Likewise, there are few psychiatric beds for those needing hospitalization within the command. Americans who need psychiatric hospitalization currently are either treated at a hospital in England or flown to the U.S., Rubenstein said.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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