May 19, 2010:
The U.S. Air Force recently announced that it was cutting its chaplain force fifteen percent over the next two years. This raised an uncharacteristic stink among air force personnel. It seems that, although the air force is hiring more mental health professionals, many airmen prefer to discuss combat stress issues (and many other problems) with a chaplain, at least initially (and get advice on how to proceed with the mental health specialists). Chaplains have another attraction; they do not have to report anything they are told by airmen. Mental health personnel do have to report, and troubled airmen like the absolute confidentiality they get with chaplains.
In the last few years, chaplains have been spending a lot more time counseling airmen over stress related issues, and spending more time with spouses and other family members as well, because more air force personnel are being sent overseas more often. Between 2007-9, stress related chaplain counseling requests increased 3.5 times. Part of this has to do with the fact that chaplains are more approachable than the mental health therapists. Like combat medics, who are always on call in combat, chaplains walk among the troops, eat in the same dining facilities, and are always there for a needed encounter. The chaplains may not have medical degrees, but they get results, and know when to call in the medical professionals. The air force actually has more mental health professionals (724) than chaplains (544). Troops in need tend to find the chaplain more approachable.
The air force also has the fewest chaplains per 100,000 troops (127). The army has 286, and is recruiting more. The navy and marines have more, at 143 per 100,000 sailors and marines. The navy supplies chaplains for the marines (along with a lot of other support personnel, like medics.)
The air force brass seem to be getting the message, but have not exactly answered yet.