BAMBERG, Germany - A combination of internet-based services and technologies now allow Tricare to offer web-based behavioral health care services.

Implemented in August and described on the Tricare Web site, active duty service members, their spouses and family members over the age of 18 may now access a counseling session with a licensed behavioral health clinician via webcam. Beneficiaries age 18 years and older enrolled in the Transitional Assistance Management Program and Tricare Reserve Select are also welcome to use the service.

Meant as a support program for patients and not a quick fix, the initiative was created to assist Tricare beneficiaries who want an initial meeting with a mental health care professional before entering a counseling program. The program is called Tricare Assistance Program and its main goal is to use new technologies to enhance beneficiariesAca,!a,,c health care experience, while encouraging them to seek proper treatment.

To use the service, a beneficiary must have access to a Skype account, which can be downloaded for free on a personal computer, and a webcam. To initialize the counseling session, the user calls 1-800-404-5085 and, once connected to the phone service, a representative will guide the caller through the program. The result is a live streaming video counseling session.

Any computer can be used for the session. Memory size and program requirements are described on the Tricare Web site.

According to Lt. Col. Larry Patterson of the Bamberg Health Clinic, the webcam initiative was begun to improve access to behavioral health services.

Behavioral health care Aca,!A"services have a stigma attached to them that the Army is committed to removing,Aca,!A? Patterson said. Aca,!A"We think that by making some BH service access completely obstacle-less, and even anonymous, it will encourage folks to utilize it.Aca,!A?

Beneficiaries are encouraged to learn more about web-based video counseling and the increased privacy the treatment offers. Those who are not comfortable meeting a counselor in person, or would like an initial mental health assessment, should take advantage of the service. Any counseling is confidential and will not go on an individualAca,!a,,cs military record.

Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, discussed the initiative at a roundtable Aug. 7.

In an article printed Aug. 11, Chiarelli was quoted discussing both new web-based counseling initiatives and locations providing secure conferencing for health services.

Aca,!A"I believe we have taken a very, very important first step in getting behavioral health care to Soldiers and family members who might not have received it otherwise because of stigma or geographical separation,Aca,!A? he said.

The simple fact that patients might consider using a service not previously in place improves health care and access to it, Patterson said.

Patterson said that seeking counseling services through the health clinic, and seeing a health professional in person, should still be a priority for those who need assistance.

Aca,!A"The webcam cannot be equated with a traditional appointment,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"The user will receive guidance and advice not clinical diagnosis and treatment. The hope is that the webcam will be the gateway to definitive treatment.Aca,!A?

The time and place limitations are lessened through this service, as it is easier to work a web-based appointment around a personal schedule.

Aca,!A"In a sense, it does provide greater flexibility for appointments, but the webcam will not replace traditional BH services,Aca,!A? Patterson said. Aca,!A"It is our hope it will help users recognize their problems, and realize there is help they can access in Bamberg.Aca,!A?

For those who do not have a personal computer at home, there are alternative options. Tricare provides a number of links on their Web site, accessible from any computer connected to the internet, to assist beneficiaries in making mental health treatment determinations. These resources include, the American Psychological Association, Hooah4Health and many others.

Further assistance can be found through Health NetAca,!a,,cs Behavioral Health Care Provider Locator and Appointment Assistance Line at 1-877-747-9579 for active duty service members, Tricare Prime or Tricare Prime Remote active duty family members. Other beneficiaries can call Healther NetAca,!a,,cs customer service line at 1-877-TRICARE. To learn more about web-based counseling, use the link below.