By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Aug. 20, 2009) -- A pilot program underway now at some Army installations allows Soldiers who think they might have a problem with alcohol to seek out help without risk to their careers.
The Confidential Alcohol Treatment and Education Pilot program allows Soldiers to self-refer into, and seek treatment from the Army Substance Abuse Program, for problems with alcohol abuse, without having their chain of command notified.
"What this allows Soldiers to do is to come in on their own before they have an incident to see whether they have a problem or not," said Dr. Jim Slobodzien, acting clinical director of the ASAP at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. "It's a time for us to do some brief counseling. Or, if we do an in-depth assessment and we do diagnose them with abuse or dependence -- to get them the proper treatment."
The Army will conduct the CATEP program at three installations, including Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; Fort Lewis, Wash. and Fort Richardson, Alaska. The program runs through Feb. 24, 2010.
In recent years, the Army has seen an increase in use of alcohol amongst Soldiers, said Chief of Staff of the Army George W. Casey Jr.
"We've been at war for nearly eight years," the general said. "That has undeniably put a strain on our people and our equipment. Unfortunately, in a growing segment of the Army's population, we have seen increased stress and anxiety manifest itself through high risk behavior, including acts of violence, excess use of alcohol, drug abuse, and reckless driving."
Soldiers are often cautioned about coming forward for help because seeking help may carry a stigma of "weakness" and because being marked as having problems with alcohol can be damaging to a Soldier's career. The CATEP program is designed to allow most Soldiers to seek help without damaging their career due to delayed promotions or inability to reenlist, and to do so without their command's knowledge.
"Their command is not informed," Casey said. "We've set up special hours, after duty hours on Saturdays and Sundays, where these appointments can be made where a Soldier who self-refers can go in and get the care and counseling he needs and hopefully head off a problem before we end up in the reactive mode."
While the CATEP program is currently only a pilot, the information collected from the program will eventually allow Army leaders to determine if the availability of confidentiality in treatment actually encourages more Soldiers to self-refer.
The CATEP program began at Schofield Barracks in early July, and Slobodzien said since inception, approximately 31 percent of those referred to the ASAP have been CATEP eligible.
"I've been working with the ASAP program for 14 years and I think this is one of the major positive improvements in the program and I would like to see it go Army-wide," he said. "My hope is Soldiers come in before they are hitting bottom and having the DUI or spouse-related incidents."
Most, but not all Soldiers are eligible for the program. Not eligible for the program are those Soldiers involved in an alcohol or drug-related incident, who have a referral to treatment from their commander, who did not complete a previous ASAP rehabilitation due to deployment, who tested positive for illicit use in a unit urine drug screen, or who sought treatment for drug abuse within the past 12 months.
For Soldiers currently assigned to the personal reliability program and certain military occupational specialties, e.g., aviation, health care, parachute rigger, etc., Army regulations still require command notification upon enrollment at the ASAP clinic, but they can still benefit from the career protections that the CATEP offers, and are encouraged to participate.