JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- In the two years since it launched, the Confidential Alcohol Treatment and Education Program has seen a lot of changes -- but the biggest change might be to the Army itself.

"It's really a major change in the Army's philosophy -- commander involvement in drug and alcohol related issues," Joint Base Lewis-McChord's Army Substance Abuse Program manger Dr. Jolee Darnell said.

The pilot program, which allows Soldiers to refer themselves for alcohol abuse treatment without notifying their chains of command, was started to help determine whether confidentiality increases the likelihood of service members to seek help and to reduce the stigma of asking for assistance.

In fact, CATEP's target audience is senior and career-minded service members who often feel they have the most to lose by getting help. The facility is separated from JBLM's ASAP office to avoid awkward encounters with fellow Soldiers going in and out, and has an open door policy. Soldiers who come to sign up for CATEP are asked to sign a confidentiality agreement, and after that they often have an assessment that day.

Originally the program was on three installations, including JBLM. Now it has expanded to six in the continental U.S., and continues to evolve in other ways.

In September, for instance, the confidentiality agreement was amended to clarify when commanders might be notified. If a high-risk Soldier stops coming to sessions, for instance, and doesn't respond to attempts to contact them directly, their commander might be notified of their involvement.

If anything, Darnell thinks this has helped the program. She estimates that only about 1 percent of service members have declined to sign the consent form since the policy changed, and repeat attendance is on the rise.

"They've had pretty good results from it," she said.

Other exceptions to total confidentiality include service members where public safety is a factor. In these cases, someone in the chain of command must be notified that treatment is taking place, but the treatment does not go on the individual's personnel record.

The hope is that having Soldiers refer themselves, which they may be more likely to do in a discreet environment, they can get treatment for alcohol problems before they get out of hand.

"The whole world has really gotten to the point where we realize prevention works," Darnell said.

For most participants at JBLM, treatment is concluded in six to eight sessions. Others might get what they need from an initial class that defines normal and abnormal drinking and helps service members identify whether or not they have a problem. Either way, if CATEP can help the Soldier get back on course before legal or behavioral issues impact his or her career, the program has done its job.

Overall, it seems that the program is succeeding at getting people to seek help. Supervisor counseling psychologist Paul McLemore, who manages the CATEP clinic on JBLM, estimates that about half of the patients eventually do give consent to inform their chain of command.

"We were really surprised by that," McLemore said, noting that the trend shows that people are starting to recognize the need for change.

Darnell hopes that attitudes will continue to change, and knows CATEP will evolve with them.

"Where's the balancing act? That's what we're trying to find," she said.

GETTING THERE

The JBLM CATEP clinic is located in the Madigan Annex in building 9912-C. Opening hours are Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Visitors are welcome as walk-ins or by appointment. Call 968-4346 for more information.

Page last updated Fri February 24th, 2012 at 00:00