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Mideast edition, Friday, September 7, 2007

ARLINGTON, Va. — Mental-health professionals from across the United States are offering free services to military personnel and their families struggling to cope with the effects of deployment and combat.

More than 550 licensed providers have joined Give an Hour, according to its founder and executive director, Barbara Romberg.

The program’s name comes from its basic commitment: Each volunteer agrees to provide at least one hour per week of mental-health support or treatment at no charge, and to participate in the network for at least a year.

Current or former members of the military are a large part of Give an Hour’s target audience, but “we are offering the services to anyone who is affected” by deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan, Romberg said on Wednesday.

That can include current or former active-duty or Reserve military members and families and support circles, such as parents, spouses, children or boyfriends or girlfriends, she said.

“Actually, many of the people who contact us are family,” Romberg said.

That’s because one of the symptoms of a common postdeployment mental-health issues arising from the war, post-traumatic stress syndrome, is that the sufferer doesn’t recognize it, she said.

Instead, it is family members who are most likely to make the connection between the recent return from combat and changes in personality, excessive drinking, sleep disturbances, long silences, or “startle” reactions, she said.

People interested in using the network should not be discouraged if they check the list of volunteers and don’t see anyone in their area, Romberg said.

“Just contact us” using the e-mail or phone contacts on www.giveanhour.org, she said, “and we’ll go out and find someone.”

Romberg, a licensed clinical psychologist who has a private practice specializing in treating children in the Washington area, said she was inspired to found Give an Hour when she was driving her own two children on errands and saw a homeless man on the street with a sign that identified him as a Vietnam veteran.

Her oldest daughter, who was 9 at the time, “asked me, ‘Mom, how can our country allow this to happen?’ And I thought, ‘We should have done better. We can do better. I have the training, skills and professional contacts to help keep this from happening to the new generation of troops.’”

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