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Soldiers can find a sympathetic ear online, through TRIAP

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Aug. 07, 2009) -- Soldiers who need somebody to talk to, any time of the day or night, can turn to the TRICARE Assistance Program.

As a pilot program that kicked off Aug. 1, TRIAP allows Soldiers to use a telephone, a computer, or even a computer with video conferencing capabilities, to communicate directly with licensed counselors about stress management issues, family difficulties and pressures, family separations and deployments, relationships and marital issues, parent/child communication, or any personal problems that might adversely impact work performance, health, or well-being.

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The TRIAP service is available day or night, year round, at no cost to Soldiers, is confidential, and doesn't get reported to a Soldier's command, said Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli.

"I am very excited that our Soldiers and family members can now access care from the comfort and privacy of their own home, if necessary, and the processes are in motion to move us through a phased approach to eventually get to where Soldiers and family members can access truly comprehensive behavior health care at home," Chiarelli said.

No records are kept of when a Soldier uses the services provided by TRIAP. Additionally, if Soldiers are using TRIAP, and they need more advanced mental-health services, the online licensed counselors will assist them in setting up such an appointment.

Each region of the three regions of TRICARE has developed its own version of the TRIAP pilot program. These individual programs can be accessed on each region's Web site as listed below:

TRICARE North Region

TRICARE South Region

TRICARE West Region

The TRIAP program uses commercial communications applications like Skype or iChat to connect Soldiers face-to-face with counselors. To take full advantage of the service, Soldiers must have the correct software and hardware on their computer. Face-to-face counseling services, for instance, would require a video camera.

Also part of the initiative by TRICARE to place more emphasis on mental health, is the expansion of its Telemental Health Network. Under that expansion, about 251 locations are available as of Aug. 1 where TRICARE beneficiaries can visit via teleconference with a professional mental-health-care provider, such as a therapist, or psychologist, and participate in a session.

Sessions under Telemental Health must be scheduled like any appointment, and are fully documented and placed into a patient's records.

"I believe we have taken a very important first step in getting behavioral healthcare to Soldiers and family members who might not have received it otherwise, because of stigma or geographical separation," Chiarelli said.

The general said he imagines a day when an entire nationwide network of behavioral health providers could be available to provide one-on-one counseling to Soldiers in a brigade that just returned from deployment.

"I could set up a gymnasium, when a brigade came back, that had 250 computer stations in it, and up in to row one, seat one, as that brigade flows through, goes the brigade commander, sitting next to him the sergeant major, then the entire brigade chain of command, followed by the Soldiers of the brigade, getting a no-kidding, real mental health evaluation after a 12-month rotation, " Chiarelli said.

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