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School officials discuss adding Army mental health program

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Students from military families might receive extra mental-health services as soon as next fall to help them cope with the consequences of war and deployment.

At recent Board of Education meetings, the Watertown, Indian River and Carthage school district superintendents have discussed the possibility of having specialized psychiatrists and psychologists stationed at or rotated through their schools.

These specialists will come from an Army program used at posts throughout the country and at two bases in Germany.

“The goal is to potentially do this next September,” said James Kettrick, Indian River superintendent.

Michael R. Flick, Watertown City School District Board of Education president, said he believes school counselors may not be trained to help children with Army-induced behavioral health issues, including coping with a parent plagued by post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Deployment stress is felt by the broader school community, but is felt most acutely by those who are directly impacted,” Mr. Flick said. “While we have done a good job helping these kids the best we can, this level of expertise and commitment by the Army is most welcome and will surely have an impact.”

Officials on post, where the superintendents were invited to learn about the program, provided sparse, tentative information about the program’s possibility.

Col. Mark W. Thompson said Wednesday that officials from the Army Medical Command Child, Adolescent and Family Behavioral Health Office, which runs the specialized program, will visit in mid-March to help with planning. He said it is not guaranteed that the program will come to fruition at the three districts, however.

No more information was offered, but the program is modeled on others from posts around the world.

At Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland, the program is run through the Child, Adolescent and Family Behavioral Health Office at Fort George G. Meade. Previously, a similar program was run through nearby Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. During the last three years, the district switched to the Army’s program.

“The need to bring these services to the families of our military service men and women became vital to the mental health needs of this community, particularly as the wars of this generation continued, and extended tours of duty became routine,” Kathleen D. Lane, Anne Arundel director of alternative education, said in an email.

The district employs the program in seven of its buildings, the bulk being elementary schools. The behavioral health team consists of a psychiatrist, a clinical psychiatrist and a social worker in addition to the counselors who work for the schools.

Mr. Flick said he hopes students affected by Fort Drum can have better access to professional help soon.

“While I haven’t seen all the details about the proposed program, it sounds promising,” he said. “Given the rate of deployment from Fort Drum and the number of military children in our local schools, I think this program, if it comes to fruition, will be a winner.”

For more information on the global Army initiative, visit brainhealth.army.mil/SBH/default.aspx.

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