Give An Hour provides free counseling for soldiers, families

Wednesday - 2/9/2011, 4:42pm EST

Not-for-profit Give An Hour offers free counseling to soldiers, veterans and their families as the military continues to struggle with suicides.

Last year, more soldiers died in suspected suicides than on the battlefield, the San Diego Union Tribune reports. (At least 468 committed suicide compared with 455 who died in hostile action, according to the Department of Defense Manpower Data Center)

And although suicides among active-duty soldiers have leveled off after rising over prior years, the number of suicides among National Guard and Reserves have doubled over the previous year.

Barbara Van Dahlen, the president and founder of Give an Hour, said the good news is that this generation of warriors has more awareness about mental health care than previous generations.

"There's still the issue of stigma around mental health issues, but I think more so this time around than, say, Vietnam or other wars, the message is getting to the folks who serve and their families," Van Dahlen said.

Give An Hour has 5,000 counselors who volunteer their mental health services for one hour a week. Anyone in the military since Sept. 11, 2011, can take advantage of the service. There is no cap on how many hours servicemembers and families can receive, and the service is anonymous and "totally free." To date, the organization has given 34,000 hours of care, Van Dahlen said.

Counselors offer treatment for anxiety, depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, sexual health and intimacy concerns, and loss and grieving, according to the nonprofit's website.

They also do outreach to let people know that "this is a normal reaction to combat, this is what we expect to see, and our job is to respond to it," Van Dahlen said.

Give An Hour partners with the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs. However, Van Dahlen added, "There are gaps because the government can't provide services everywhere."

Also, servicemembers may not seek military services because they are concerned about their careers and standings, she said.

To request services or to volunteer, visit the Give An Hour website.