Calls rise at Pentagon help hotline (USA Today)

By Gregg Zoroya, USA Today

The number of troops and their relatives seeking help from a Pentagon employee-assistance hotline — often linked to war deployments — has grown 40% every year since 2004, say Pentagon officials and hotline operators.

The program receives a thousand calls daily from military members and families and nearly 6,000 individual visits to its website, says Jane Burke, who supervises the program for the Pentagon's Office of Military Community and Family Policy.

"The multiple deployments with the families — they're worn. They need help. So they give us a call, and we find whatever resource we can for them," consultant Steve Schaffhouser says.

The increase in help calls underscores concerns raised publicly by military leaders such as Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff, that more and longer combat tours strain troops and their families.

Callers receive up to six free, confidential sessions with a licensed therapist. Emotional and relationship problems are big areas of need, says Cherie Zadlo, who runs Military OneSource for Minneapolis-based Ceridian Corp. Other issues include legal problems, child care, education, finance and taxes.

Burke says the program's growth is due to a greater need and greater awareness of the program and its hotline number. "We're trying to help them," she says. "We know it's hard."

Military OneSource began as a pilot program serving Marines in 2002 and was expanded to the entire U.S. military in 2004. It's available to more than 5 million active, National Guard and reserve troops and their family members. From 2005 to 2007, it cost about $50 million per year, according to government contract records.

Pentagon officials declined to provide year-by-year statistics for the program. Zadlo says there were more than 200,000 calls and 2.1 million Web visits last year.

Denise Drzewiecki, 38, of Killeen, Texas, was one caller. Her husband, Army Sgt. Scott Drzewiecki, was in Iraq. Their daughter, then 12 and suffering mental disorders, was angrily acting out. "I felt like my world was caving in on me," Denise Drzewiecki says. A hotline operator "validated how I was feeling and then told me what they could do to help." In two days, she had an appointment with a therapist.