Mental Health Counseling, Support Services for DoD Civilians Resume -- For Now

Help is available for people suffering from depression. (Army Photo: Courtesy photo)

The Defense Department’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which offers referrals for mental health counseling, substance abuse and other support services to DoD civilians, has been restored for at least 60 days following its abrupt suspension in an apparent contract dispute, according to the Pentagon.

EAP programs, provided through the Program Support Center at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), have been restored "for a period of 60 days that started September 9," Pentagon spokeswoman Heather Babb said late Thursday.

With no public announcement, the DoD, the largest government employer with more than 700,000 in the civilian workforce at the Pentagon and the service branches, suspended EAP on Sept. 1.

The DoD gave no reason for the suspension, but the Defense Logistics Agency said in a website posting at the time that EAP services "were unexpectedly suspended as of 9/1/2019 while DoD is developing long-term solutions to provide this important support to DoD civilian employees."

Related: Pentagon Suspends Mental Health Counseling Referral Services for DoD Civilians

DLA civilians were advised to call 911 in an emergency during the suspension.

In a Sept. 8 statement, Babb said that "DoD is developing long-term solutions to provide this important support to DoD civilians" while an agreement to resume services temporarily though HHS was worked out.

A Sept. 6 letter from HHS to DoD first obtained by Federal News Network said that the Federal Occupational Health service within HHS would be canceling its interagency agreements with DoD to provide the Employee Assistance Program once the 60-day extension ended.

The HHS Program Support Center "has determined that it does not have the policies and procedures necessary to continue providing FOH services to DoD in fiscal year 2020," the letter said. "PSC anticipates an orderly termination" of the agreements with DoD "over the next 60 days."

HHS has yet to respond to queries on cancellation of EAP services to the DoD through Federal Occupational Health, which has a unique arrangement with the federal government to provide support services and referrals.

However, Babb said Friday that DoD was committed to continuing EAP past the 60-day deadline for cancellation, although she did not provide details on how that would be done.

"DOD is committed to continuing the services previously provided by the Employee Assistance Program and is developing long-term solutions to provide this important support to DOD civilian employees," Babb said.

On its website, Federal Occupational Health bills itself as the largest provider of occupational health services in the federal government, serving more than 360 federal agencies and 1.8 million federal employees.

FOH is a "non-appropriated agency" within the Program Support Center of HHS and, as such, it "operates like a business within the government and charges government agencies for the services it provides them," according to the FOH website.

EAP has won praise from DoD agencies for its free and confidential referrals to support services ranging from mental health counseling to legal matters.

On its website, the Defense Logistics Agency described EAP as a "structured approach for helping employees and their families identify and resolve personal problems and concerns that may affect job performance."

"These problems and concerns may include emotional and psychiatric problems, alcohol and other drug related problems, marriage and family problems, financial and legal problems, interpersonal conflicts at work, stress, vocational issues--almost any personal concern," DLA officials said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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