Army tests anonymous treatment for alcohol abuse
By Teri Weaver, Stars and Stripes, Saturday, October 10, 2009
TOKYO — For better and sometimes worse, alcohol is a common battle buddy.
Troops use it to celebrate after a long deployment and to self-medicate when the euphoria fades, leaving only stress, emotions and memories.
To combat that abuse, the Army is trying something new: allowing soldiers who have no alcohol-related blemishes on their records to seek treatment for alcohol abuse or addiction with anonymity and without affecting their permanent records.
Under a pilot program in place at three stateside bases, soldiers who qualify can receive counseling without anyone telling their commanders, without any delay to promotions or re-enlistments and without anyone counting their need for help as an automatic step toward a discharge.
"This is a profound change in the whole ASAP program since its inception in 1975," said James Slobodzien, who directs the Army Substance Abuse Program at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, one of the three pilot sites.
It is well known that military “treatment” programs, can be mere adjuncts of law enforcement. The system discourages people in need of help, why get help if (for example):
Many soldiers end up in alcohol counseling because they are forced to go. Commanders must refer soldiers if they are involved in an alcohol-related incident such as a fight or an arrest, or if they have problems at work. Those rules still hold, and any soldier getting counseling as a requirement is not eligible for the pilot program, Slobodzien said.
Yet voluntary enrollment in the traditional program also sends automatic notifications to commanders. Participation, whether voluntary or required, puts promotions on hold and restricts a soldier from re-enlisting. The soldier’s record will forever note the enrollment, and after two enrollments in ASAP, he or she can be dismissed from the military, Slobodzien said.
Guess which of the two “enrollment” methods indicate the best chances of success? – Correct, the voluntary enrollee who does so because she needs help, recognizes the need, and wants to work at it, and who doesn’t have to look over her shoulder for the NCIS/CID/OSI or commander. (Ooooops, and guess which is more likely to reduce the need for legal help.)
At first, commanders were anxious about the idea of not knowing everything about their soldiers’ situations, Jones and others said.
So which anxiety is better: knowing that some Soldiers may be enrolled in a program to help them deal with an alcohol problem and become more reliable, etc., or be anxious not knowing how many Soldiers in the unit have an alcohol problem, are a potential safety problem, aren’t getting help, and it’s a matter of time before there’s a problem?