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STUTTGART, Germany — While the military has developed numerous programs to help servicemembers and their families deal with deployment-related stress, it has only recently launched efforts to help those who provide that support.

Thursday’s shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, allegedly committed by an Army psychiatrist, has thrown a harsh spotlight on what can go wrong when a person responsible for helping others is himself troubled.

Chaplains, family readiness group leaders and counselors all may suffer under the constant strain of trying to help others, and often are deeply affected by what they experience as caregivers.

In 2007, officials at U.S. European Command started hearing from some members of its caregiver community, and the news wasn’t good.

"Caregivers told us they’re burned out. They’re stressed," said Wayne Boswell, EUCOM’s quality-of-life chief. "It’s the first time I can remember where caregivers said, ‘I need help.’ That set off alarm bells for us."

In response, the command formed a program aimed at combating "compassion fatigue." Developed in partnership with European Regional Medical Command, EUCOM has established "Provider Outreach While Enhancing Readiness/Resiliency," which was launched last summer with a series of training seminars.

It’s all part of a growing recognition that the stress associated with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan not only affects troops and their families, but also the people who counsel and advise them.

Though only in its infancy, the EUCOM program is starting to generate attention in other commands. By providing more support for caregivers, support workers will be in a better position to do their jobs and bolster troop readiness, Boswell said.

Indeed, such programs could gain even more traction as the military attempts to piece together what prompted Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan to allegedly turn his gun on the very community he was responsible for helping. Thirteen people were killed in the Fort Hood shooting.

Within the military medical community in Europe, resiliency training has been in place for some time, according to the European Regional Medical Command. However, in the past nine months, programs aimed at boosting burnout awareness have been expanded to include more in-depth training and follow-up appraisals, said David Douglas, manager of ERMC’s provider resiliency program.

These types of resiliency programs are important in high-stress environments such as Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, said Dr. Daphne Brown, chief of behavioral health at LRMC.

When a patient doesn’t recover, "We feel like we’ve failed personally," Brown said. "A lot of our staff get very attached to the patients they care for."

The new EUCOM program, meanwhile, could help some chaplains and other counselors at LRMC, who give support to front line medical providers, he said.

So far, 94 trainers have been instructed to teach the program in their respective communities across Europe in the coming months. By the end of 2010, some 5,000 caregivers will have received the one-day course, according to EUCOM.

FRG leaders, casualty notification volunteers and rear detachment leaders are other support personnel who could benefit from the program, she said.

At the U.S. Army Garrison in Grafenwöhr, some FRG leaders recently received the training.

"What they’re learning is how to take care of themselves so they don’t get to burnout status," said Nicole Heller, a mobility and deployment specialist at Army Community Services in Grafenwöhr.

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.
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