The U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) wants to bolster the number of psychologists available at U.S. military hospitals—and make more behavioral health services accessible to service members and their families. Through a preliminary plan worked out between the PHS and the Department of Defense, as many as 200 PHS Commissioned Corps officers who are psychologists, psychiatrists, clinical social workers and psychiatry nurse practitioners will be assigned to Army, Navy and Air Force hospitals this year.
Some of those behavioral health specialists will be officers transitioning out of military service.
One of the nation's seven uniformed services, the Commissioned Corps employs about 6,000 public health professionals across a wide array of federal agencies, such as the Indian Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As PHS officers, they will earn comparable pay to military officers, enjoy the same benefits-such as low-cost health care for their families at military facilities, tax-free housing allowances, commissary privileges and military retirement-and they will not have to deploy to war zones, says Air Force Col. Joyce Adkins, PhD, director of the Combat Stress Control Program for the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs.
"There are people who want to serve their country, and this is a great opportunity for them to be able to, and to do so in uniform," she says.
Through the program, the PHS wants to bring in civilian psychologists through a direct accession program, as well as military psychologists who have already decided to leave military service.
One of those psychologists is Victoria Ingram, PsyD, a former Army major. Ingram left the Army in October 2006 after more than 10 years in uniform.
Married, with two small children and an elderly mother to care for, Ingram says she left active duty because she couldn't reconcile the risks of a deployment with her obligations to her family.
"Some of the sacrifices required to be on active duty became incongruent with my personal life," she says. The program, "allows the two most important things in my life to merge."
Psychologists interested in the program should e-mail recruiter Capt. O'Neal Walker, PhD and can learn more about the Commissioned Corps at www.usphs.gov.