By Karen Jowers - Staff writer

Countless cookies, phone cards, toys and many other items are donated to troops and their families in appreciation for their sacrifices.

Here’s another donation opportunity to consider: mental health counseling.
Give An Hour and The Soldiers Project have been offering free confidential counseling in settings that are completely independent of the military structure. The sessions are available to troops who have served or will serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as their loved ones.

That includes not only spouses and children, but parents, siblings, grandparents, girlfriends/boyfriends, cousins and others not allowed access to counseling and other military benefits through avenues like Military OneSource. Essentially, the counseling is open to anyone affected by a relationship with a particular service member.

Give an Hour ( has provided 19,794 hours of free mental health services since launching its program in July 2007, according to its October survey of registered mental health providers. At an average cost of $100 an hour, that’s nearly $2 million worth of care.

You can choose the “basic search” option on the Web site to find providers in your area, or you can do a “guided search” to find a local provider who best suits your needs. The network lists only licensed mental health professionals.

The Soldiers Project ( is seeking to expand from its current chapters in Chicago, New York and Seattle. Call 818-761-7438 or toll free 877-576-5343, and the organization will assign a clinician based on your needs, location and available professionals.

All their volunteers are fully trained and licensed therapists who must participate in special training related to combat stress, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, as well as issues of deployment, combat, homecoming and re-entry to civilian life.

These nonprofits do not report to any government agency and offer complete confidentiality except in cases where the provider is required to contact authorities, such as when a person’s safety is in jeopardy.
“Sometimes when a vet comes back, they just need to talk ... to sort things out for themselves,” said Barbara Schochet, assistant director of The Soldiers Project. “We know that some [troops] will not go to a government facility, but they will come to us.”

Schochet said understanding the roots of seemingly unusual behavior is key. She recalled one wife who tried to hug her soldier from behind after he returned from Iraq, and was upset when he swatted at her.

“I said, ‘This type of behavior helped him stay alive while he was deployed — hypervigilance.’ She was relieved. He was relieved,” Schochet said.