WASHINGTON — Soldiers in remote outposts in Iraq and Afghanistan lack timely access to mental health care, USA Today reported Wednesday, citing Pentagon officials and a recent survey.

About one-third of soldiers in these areas say they can’t see a counselor when they need to, according to results of an Army survey conducted last year and released last month, the paper reported.

Citing the survey, USA Today wrote that in Iraq, mental health professionals must travel in armed convoys to reach troops stationed in embattled neighborhoods. In Afghanistan, it can take an average of 40 hours for a psychologist to visit soldiers.

The Army surveyed 3,168 soldiers. Today there are 157,000 soldiers in Iraq and 31,000 in Afghanistan. As part of President Bush’s troop increase in Iraq last year, many soldiers were moved to isolated outposts, USA Today noted.

The Army, recognizing the need for more counseling, said nine months ago that it would hire 200 additional mental health professionals by May, the paper reported. It later raised the number to 288, about a 25 percent increase in staff. So far, 158 slots are filled.

The Army says it is exploring ways to build war-zone staffing, including sending in contracted civilian professionals, Army spokeswoman Cynthia Vaughan told USA Today. Also under consideration is a pilot program to allow civilian psychiatrists, psychologists and others to enlist for two years, rather than the current eight-year minimum.

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