Navigating Psychological Health Resources in the Military

By Navy Capt. Carrie Kennedy, Ph.D., Director, Psychological Health Center of Excellence
May 1, 2019

One of the great things about serving in the military is that there are literally resources for just about everything at absolutely no financial cost. One of the not so great things about military resources, especially in the realm of psychological health, is that there are so many programs, that it can be difficult to navigate them. Figuring out where to go and how to get access can be challenging. This blog will help get you started, and our Mental Health Awareness Month campaign will help keep your mind mission ready all month.  

First, if you are in crisis, and you need immediate help, please go to whichever is best for you: the nearest emergency room, your chain of command, the on base clinic or hospital, or call, text or chat the Military Crisis Line. All of these resources can help to get you on the path to the care that you may need.

If you are not in crisis, you have questions, you are looking for resources, or you need to figure out how to access non-emergent care, the rest of this blog is for you.

The ultimate cheat sheet to navigating resources is to contact the Psychological Health Resource Center which is a free 24/7 call/e-mail/chat center which will either answer, or find the answer to, any military-related psychological health question. All of the people providing assistance are social workers and licensed professional counselors. They are experts in finding local resources and connecting you to the people who can provide the specific assistance or answers you need. Service members, veterans, and their family members can use the resource center and there are no eligibility requirements. Note that the Psychological Health Resource Center is not a counseling center – they can help you find information and treatment, but they don’t provide it.

If you are an active duty service member, you know you need psychological health care, and you are ready for that care, you can self-refer to the clinic or hospital’s mental health/behavioral health department that serves your command. Or if you have a mental health provider that is embedded into your command, simply let them know you need an appointment. You don’t need a referral in the military for mental health care. You may also access the Internal Behavioral Health Consultant within your primary care clinic – ask at the front desk of the primary care clinic or your primary care doc.

If you aren’t sure you need treatment, you aren’t ready for treatment, you have questions about the process, you have questions about specific symptoms, or you are worried about your career, start with the Real Warriors Campaign. You can contact them via live chat 24/7 and they provide substantial resources on their website.

If you are a veteran of any era or are in the reserves or National Guard and you are looking for mental health care, the best place to go is the inTransition program. InTransition was designed for service members transitioning from active duty to civilian life so that they don’t experience problems finding a new mental health provider. However, inTransition is open to any active, reserve, or Guard member and any veteran regardless of era or type of discharge any time a new mental health provider is needed (to include if you are looking for one for the first time). They are committed to finding you care at no cost, even if you are not eligible for treatment at the VA.

If you have problems that can be addressed via non-medical counseling, such as for stress management, grief, or adjustment problems, each of the branches of service have counseling centers which provide this service and any active duty member can access Military OneSource for a variety of services.

Those are just SOME mental health resources for the military community – there are many more. To find some of the best, visit our Mental Health Awareness Month page, peruse our website, and follow us on Facebook all month where we will be highlighting resources to keep you mission ready.

The views expressed in Clinician's Corner blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Psychological Health Center of Excellence or Department of Defense.


  • I understood that if one (client) saw a mental health professional associated with the military or DOD, the information given by the client, then becomes a matter of that client's military record. Is that correct? If a client for example reports that they were abused by a spouse be it military or not, abused as a child, hear voices, or are very depressed, etc. does the military follow the same protocol as the civilian sector?

    • Thank you for your question! When any service member sees a medical provider, this is entered into their military medical record (not the service record), just as a civilian's medical appointments and test reports are documented within their medical record. It is up to the provider to determine if additional reporting is required, just as in the civilian sector, and to report the information to the appropriate party. For example, childhood histories are almost never relevant to report outside of the provider-patient relationship. Other problems, such as transient problems related to relationship stress, adjustment problems, grief, or alcohol education, are expressly protected from reporting (per Department of Defense Instruction 6490.08). However, in the case of more serious mental health symptoms, this would be determined by the nature and severity of the symptoms, the service member's current duties, whether or not the service member is in a deployed environment, etc. The key is to maintain health and safety when information must be reported, but to maintain confidentiality whenever possible.

      Capt. Kennedy

  • After a reserve Soldier is found "not fit for duty" and released from the Military Treatment Facility, what happens next if a MEB is likely? And, does the Soldier have access to any free follow up care if needed?

    • This is a great question about the potential barriers faced by reserve component soldiers. If a reserve component soldier has been treated in an inpatient psychiatric facility at a Military Treatment Facility, and the discharge disposition indicates that permanent duty limitations are required that do not meet medical retention standards, then the soldier would be referred to the Military Occupational Specialty Administrative Retention Review (MAR2) and ultimately the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) for a Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) and related medical discharge. This will include all of the evaluations that an active component soldier would receive during IDES. The soldier’s command would work with appropriate medical channels to ensure that these processes are initiated.

      Related to follow-up care, Reserve component soldiers retain the same eligibility for care that they had prior to the admission. If they are still on active duty (Title 10) orders, then they would be seen at the Military Treatment Facility for follow-up. If they are eligible for care through the Veterans Healthcare Administration (VHA), then they could be seen at VHA facilities, and this treatment would be accounted for during IDES. Reserve component soldiers also can request to be put on Active Duty Medical Extension orders that would cover care eligibility at Military Treatment Facilities while the MAR2, MEB, and IDES determinations are finalized. 

      If there is a unique circumstance, the reserve component service member can call the inTransition program at 800-424-7877. This program exists to provide specialized coaching and referral assistance for any service members who need access to mental health care.

      The interested reader is also referred to Army Regulation 635-40, which lays out the requirements for reserve component soldiers during Disability Evaluation for Retention, Retirement, or Separation.

      -- Dr. Tim Hoyt

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