Upfront

The growing demand for psychological services for members of the military and their families is not being met, leading the Army, Navy and Air Force to offer more incentives to attract psychologists to their ranks.

Specialty pay, recruitment and retention bonuses, more internship slots and a route for civilian psychologists to get commissioned are among the enticements the armed services hope will increase the number of psychologists.

According to the most recent statistics, the Army has 132 psychologist slots, but as of February had filled only 90, says Army Col. Bruce Crow, PsyD. Including interns and some postdoctoral fellows, the Air Force has 211 of its 254 positions filled, says Col. Scott Marrs, PhD. And in the Navy, 96 of its 118 psychologists are on board, says Navy Capt. Martin Petrillo, PhD.

To address the shortfalls, APA consulted with the psychology leadership of all three services last year in a successful effort to encourage Congress to authorize hefty incentive bonuses to recruit psychologists and retention bonuses for psychologists already serving. Those bonuses include an annual payment of $25,000 for up to four years to military psychologists who stay on active duty and a recruitment incentive as high as $400,000 with an active-duty commitment of at least four years for civilian psychologists.

In another effort supported by APA, the U.S. Public Health Service is stationing as many as 200 psychologists, psychiatrists, clinical social workers and psychiatry nurse practitioners at Army, Navy and Air Force hospitals in the United States to make more behavioral health services accessible to service members and their families.

In addition, both the Army and Navy are expanding the number of psychologists they commission through internship programs. The Army is taking on 30 interns this year, up from 12 in 2004, and has added a second year of residency training to its internship, giving the interns a clear path to licensure and more orientation to the demands of being an Army psychologist, Crow says.

The Navy is bringing on 12 interns this year, up from six interns in 2004. As a new route to becoming a Navy psychologist, psychology doctoral students who have finished their civilian internships can be commissioned, have a postdoctoral fellowship year at a Navy facility and become licensed, Petrillo says.

Meanwhile, the Air Force has hired an additional 56 civilian psychologists and is recruiting six more to work alongside active-duty psychologists in U.S. hospitals and clinics, Marrs says. The Army has hired an additional 150 civilian psychologists since 2001, Crow says.

Across the services, the pace of repeated deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan contributed to the high number of active-duty psychologists resigning after completing their obligated service.

Marrs visited Air Force internship sites this year, and he said interns told him they expected to deploy, and looked forward to the experience.

"I expect retention levels to grow higher," Marrs says.

— C. Munsey