By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (July 27, 2011) -- The Army needs 130 substance- abuse counselor positions filled as soon as possible -- or at least by Oct. 1.
The Army Substance Abuse Program is short on providers who can help restore to duty those substance-impaired Soldiers who have the potential for continued military service.
The Army needs about 10 additional providers each at Soldier strongholds like Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Jackson, Miss.; and Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. The service also needs providers overseas in places like Grafenwoehr, Germany and Camp Humphreys, Korea.
For only a week, beginning Aug. 1, the Army will accept applications -- as part of an expedited hiring process -- to bring new counselors on board. And the Army is willing to pay competitively to get those providers to sign up.
Providers will earn anywhere from $50,000 to $93,000 a year, depending on their location. And along with the salary comes some hefty benefits.
"When you consider the benefits package the Department of the Army offers -- health and life insurance, matching contributions toward Thrift Savings Plan, and leave -- I think it's extremely competitive," said Joy Krush, chief of MEDCELL at the Army Civilian Human Resources Agency.
Also authorized to bring qualified substance-abuse counselors on board are directed recruiting bonuses, relocation incentive and even student loan payback.
"We do what we can to be competitive in the marketplace," said Dr. Les McFarling, director of the Army Substance Abuse Program. "With a big push, we can get ourselves over the top with this 130."
McFarling said the Army knew it had a shortage of substance-abuse counselors back in 2008, when the service started getting Soldiers back from combat and there were waiting lines to see substance-abuse counselors. The Army's vice chief of staff made it a "top issue" to rectify the situation in 2009, McFarling said.
"We're pushing to get more folks," McFarling said, saying the Army has a target of reaching about 562 total counselors Army-wide to meet the needs of Soldiers. The 130 it's looking for now will fill the shortfall it currently has.
"We've been working toward that target since March 2010," he said. "And it's been a struggle."
McFarling said it's not just the Army that has a shortage of substance-abuse counselors -- nationwide, he estimates, the United States could use an additional 30,000 counselors.
Perhaps making it a bit easier for the Army to find counselors are laws that allow practitioners who work as employees of the U.S. military to practice in any state -- regardless of what state they are licensed in -- so long as they are practicing on a military installation.
"A license from any state can be used on an Army installation, regardless of where that installation is," Krush said.
Krush said the Army is especially looking for providers with independent licenses -- meaning they can work alone -- coupled with substance-abuse certification. Those without a substance-abuse certification, must get one within a year, she said. And she also added that the Army is willing to "accept a non-independent license if the individual has the substance-abuse certification" already.
While some civilian mental health providers might be reticent to sign up to help Soldiers, or to be part of the military lifestyle, Krush said it's important to know that already, as many as 60 percent of everyone engaged in providing health care in Army hospitals and clinics are civilians.
"I do think there is a general lack of knowledge that we have these civilian positions," she said.
According to Krush, there is no mobility or deployment requirement as part of the job, and no positions to fill in war zones. "They will be able to choose a location," she said.
To get assistance from the ASAP, Soldiers can self-refer or be referred by their commanders. McFarling said last year, about 11,000 Soldiers were provided assistance from ASAP for alcohol-related problems, while about 1,900 got assistance for other drugs.
"And the more counselors we have, the better opportunity we have to help Soldiers, and in some cases, to help save a Soldier's life."