By Pfc. Justin MillsJuly 14, 2011
FORT STEWART, Ga. - Soldiers are renowned for their bravery and selfless-service; but there are two words that render even the bravest among them speechless: Behavioral Health.
In 2004 the Military Family Life Consultant program was piloted for the United States Army/Europe to meet the need of providing supplemental services to the Families of the 1st Armored Division Soldiers. With the program’s success it was extended to include all Military Services stateside and overseas.
The role of the consultants in the program is to help the Soldier’s and their Families by providing non-medical, short-term, situational problem-solving counseling, which often means simply listening.
“Everyone needs someone to talk to,” said Vicki Hamlin, Army Community Services director for Fort Stewart. “Unfortunately Soldiers are often the last to want to talk.”
While they are willing to make great sacrifices to provide help to those in need, Soldiers are generally the last to seek help themselves when times get tough, due to the stigma attached to the behavioral health system.
“Soldiers often believe that since a session with Behavioral Health will go into their permanent file that it could negatively affect their career in the future,” Hamlin said. “Even if there is no foundation to this fear, it’s still very real and can keep someone who really needs it from seeking help.”
To assuage this fear the consultants who work with the program, all of whom are a Masters or Ph.D. licensed clinical counselor, keep no notes during a session. This means there is no record kept that the Soldier has even been to a counselor or had a problem.
Due to the high frequency of deployments here Stewart has taken the concept of the MFLC program and ran with it, Hamlin said. Every unit has a dedicated MFLC embedded with them in the belief that they will become a friendly face seen on a daily basis, thus making it easier for Soldiers to talk with them.
Julie L. Cassels, a Family Readiness Support Assistant with the 3-69th Armor Battalion, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, believes the stigma attached to seeking help has dissipated since the inception of the MFLC program.
‘The longer the war has gone on they have realized that getting help for themselves will actually make them better Soldiers,” said Cassels. “Soldiers can be seen quickly, no records are kept of the visit and the Soldier leaves with the comfort of knowing someone is willing to listen and truly cares.”
In the same vein she believes it is important that senior leaders utilize the resources available to them when they need help as well.
“If a leader has problems and doesn’t address them, how is he going to help them when they come to him with problems of their own,” Cassels said. “Leaders have enough stress and issues on their mind and seeking help for problems of their own leaves one less thing to hinder their decision making abilities.”
Another positive effect brought forth by the MFLC program is Soldiers appear more willing to take the next step and seek the help of Behavioral Health when needed.
“The MFLC can leave the Soldier feeling less apprehensive when talking about their problems and ease them into Behavioral Health,” Cassels said. “Sometimes Behavioral Health is a necessary step when the Soldier is willing to take it.”
Cassels believes the biggest problem with the program is that the Families of the Soldier don’t use it as often as they could. She’s not sure if they don’t realize its available to them or if they are afraid to do so.
The only situations in which the MFLC’s cannot assist is when other outlets are already being utilized, such as Behavioral Health, or ones that are of a legal nature and are being handled by the Judge Advocate General, added Hamlin. She also points out that although everything is kept confidential and there are no records, MFLC’s are mandated reporters of child abuse, domestic abuse, and any other duty-to-warn situations.
For all other situations, ranging from life skills, including anger management, relationship issues and parenting, to military lifestyle issues like deployment stress, coping skills, and reintegration, the MFLC’s stand ready and willing to lend their assistance and a friendly ear.
“The MFLC program is a very valuable gift the Department of Defense has given to the soldiers and their Families,” said Cassels. “Now it’s up to them to use it.”