FORT HOOD, Texas (Army News Service, Feb. 10, 2011) -- Combat veterans now staff a dedicated helpline for troubled Soldiers and their Families at Fort Hood.

The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey provides the "Vets4Warriors" helpline, which will be staffed by combat veterans trained as peer counselors.

"Soldiers and their families deserve the best possible support systems available," said Col. (Dr.) Steven E. Braverman, commander of Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center. "Those who have served our country are best able to understand the unique challenges of military life and therefore, are the ideal support counselors for active duty families."

The counselors on the Vets4Warriors line are trained to discuss mental health concerns and problems such as financial or marriage troubles, and will maintain contact with callers and follow up with them until issues are resolved. If Soldiers have problems too complex or immediate for the online counselors to address, they can also direct callers where to go to for help.

"The peer counselors will attempt to address any concerns callers have," Braverman said. "If they identify an immediate need for further behavioral health care, they will contact social workers or psychologists at Darnall for a 'warm handoff.' We have 24-hour behavioral health emergent and urgent care capability and the peer counselors will tap into that availability."

The Vets4Warriors program at Fort Hood is similar to another program UMDNJ runs in New Jersey. The Vet2Vet helpline there was the first of its kind in the nation when it began operating in New Jersey in 2005. It was modeled after a Cop2Cop peer counseling program for police.

Christopher Kosseff, chief executive officer of UMDNJ's University Behavioral HealthCare, runs the New Jersey program. It was his idea to start the program at Fort Hood, after four suicides were reported in one week at the Army post.

"Unfortunately, the suicide rate among the military has risen dramatically in the past eight years. Today, a veteran is twice as likely to commit suicide as someone who has never served," said Kosseff. "Most of the calls we receive on our helpline in New Jersey are Soldiers or veterans seeking help for depression and hopelessness."

Kosseff said that their helpline in New Jersey is making a difference for the National Guard Soldiers and their families, claiming that the New Jersey National Guard has not had any veterans commit suicide in the six years since the UMDNJ's helpline has existed.

Kosseff added that having veterans staff the lines has been a key reason to its success in New Jersey.

"All of our veteran counselors really understand the rigors of military life ... not only can they relate to what you're going through, they are trained to help you get the help you need," he said. "We bring that same sense of commitment of care and support to the Fort Hood military community. Our veteran counselors are all dedicated to helping the Soldiers and their families."

Fort Hood Soldiers and Family members can contact the anonymous help line at 1-855-838-8255, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Alternatively, Hood Soldiers and their Families can communicate with veteran peer counselors at Right now, the helpline and web services are for Fort Hood Soliders.

(Patricia Deal writes for CRDAMC Public Affairs)