Becoming an Active Duty Military Psychologist

Five ways to enter the military and serve as a psychologist.

Posted Sep 14, 2020

I’m often asked by undergraduate and graduate psychology students about the different options when entering the military as a clinical psychologist. Here's information about the different accession pipelines for service as a military psychologist.

 Photo taken by Carrie Kennedy
It's hard to know what you'll end up doing as a military clinical psychologist, but the sky is truly the limit.
Source: Photo taken by Carrie Kennedy

Aspiring psychologists have four options to enter the military: Uniformed Services University (USU), Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP), Internship, and Fellowship. Currently, licensed psychologists can enter the military as Direct Accessions. (Note that all accession pipelines require that applicants meet the military’s entry requirements.)

Uniformed Services University

For aspiring psychologists, the military has two options where all or part of graduate school is paid for, USU and HPSP. The Air Force, Army and Navy (hereinafter referred to as the Services) have spots at USU (the military’s medical school) in the clinical psychology Ph.D. program located in Bethesda, MD. Psychology students are active duty while going to school and consequently receive pay and benefits while attending and they are not charged tuition. They are obligated to serve seven years in the military following their training.

Health Professions Scholarship Program

The Services also offer scholarships through HPSP. Through these scholarships, clinical and counseling psychology Ph.D. or Psy.D. students get the bulk of their doctoral program paid for while attending a civilian program. Note that in the case of HPSP, students must already be attending a doctoral program accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). HPSP students are obligated to serve one year in the military for every year of scholarship provided (for example, if you are provided a three-year scholarship, you would be obligated to serve three years in the military following completion of internship and licensure; the points of contact listed in the match link below are also good for HPSP and other pipeline questions).

Internship

The most common way in which graduate students enter the military is through an internship. All Services offer APA-accredited internships and compete through the match program of the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers. Active duty interns make $75,000-$90,000 depending on the geographic location of their internship site and have a service obligation of three years, following completion of the internship and attainment of a psychology license.

If you are considering a military internship but are not sure if the military is right for you, the Center for Deployment Psychology offers an annual Summer Institute that provides information on serving as a psychologist in the military and opportunities to speak with current military psychologists. Alternatively, any of the internships can be contacted directly for site visits and information.

The Army offers an additional option through the Financial Assistance Program (FAP) to students who are accepted to a civilian APA-accredited clinical psychology internship. FAP includes an annual grant of $45,000 and a monthly stipend. After completion of the civilian internship, FAP recipients transition to active duty and attend one of the four Army clinical psychology post-doctoral residency programs for clinical, didactic, and leadership training. Residents receive post-doctoral supervision for licensure and EPPP study materials and have the same salary structure as interns.

Postdoctoral Fellowship

The Navy offers an APA-accredited one-year postdoctoral clinical psychology fellowship in Portsmouth, Virginia. Applicants need to be graduates (or in the last year of their graduate program) from an APA-accredited program and have completed (or be in the process of completing) an APA-accredited internship. The fellowship provides clinical supervision and training as well as didactic and leadership training, and pays approximately $76,000 for the fellowship year, and incurs a three-year service obligation.

Direct Accession Psychologists

Finally, for psychologists who already have a license and who have attended both an APA-accredited doctoral program and internship, you can join the military as a Direct Accession psychologist. Applicants negotiate their first duty station with the Service’s representative and are eligible for an accession bonus (currently $37,500 for a three-year obligation or $60,000 for a four-year obligation). There are also opportunities for partial loan repayment. Military psychology pay ranges from $75,000-$90,000 for the first year depending on geographic location (i.e., Basic Allowance for Housing, a tax-free benefit based on the cost of living) and whether or not the psychologist has dependents, as well as variables such as Basic Allowance for Subsistence (i.e., food allowance), Incentive Pay ($5,000 annually for licensed psychologists), Board Certification Pay ($6,000 annually for board-certified psychologists) and Retention Bonus (currently ranging from $10,000-$20,000 annually).

The links provided above contain specific points of contact for each Service. The APA’s Division 19 (Society for Military Psychology) also has resources for those considering the military. Learn how much military psychologists earn here.