Both the Army and the Department of Veterans Affairs share a concern for soldier behavioral health, and are working together to further mutual goals.
As the war in Afghanistan winds down and Army medicine moves into the future, behavioral health concerns will remain one of the biggest challenges faced by the Army, said Surgeon General of the Army Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho.
And after 12 years of conflict, it’s not just service members who will face behavioral health challenges, it is their families as well.
As a response to that concern, Horoho said that Army Medicine has embedded behavioral health into military patient centers and medical facilities. Included in that, she said, is a focus on sleep, nutrition, and even brain health.
“It’s really a strategic vulnerability,” Horoho said. “We need to take care of our children today to make sure they are healthy mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally; to be able to serve in our nation’s military or within civilian industry.”
While the Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA, mandate focuses on transition assistance for veterans, the department has also been focusing on ensuring a solid foundation for families as they transition with their veterans, said John Medve, the executive director of the VA/DOD Collaboration Service.
“One of the areas we’ve been working very hard on is to make sure there is alignment between DOD programs and VA programs, so we can seamlessly move people across,” Medve said. “We have federal recovery coordinators who work to ensure families understand all the dynamics they need as they transition.”
Medve also said there is now an integrated mental health strategy that is the result of collaboration between the departments. Now, treatments and protocols are in synch and include VA representatives embedded in military medical facilities.
Horoho said that alignment is part of a strategy that puts patients first.
“We’ve looked at the disability process and have aligned DOD’s strategies, processes and standards with the VA, because we’re looking at a patient care experience and continuity of care,” Horoho said. “We’ve increased our capabilities to share records so disability from both the VA side and DOD are in synch, collaboration has definitely increased.”
Another area of collaboration between the Army and the VA is in tele-health, which Medve said is expanding in the VA.
“It’s clearly important for us, from the rural aspect, in trying to get mental health clinician services out to those parts of the country that aren’t serviced by a major metropolitan area,” Medve said.
The Army has been using tele-behavioral health and distance counseling for several years. The Army has even provided such services to remote command operating posts in Afghanistan, Horoho said.
“We use tele-behavioral health so that instead of waiting for service members to get back home to deal with something, they can deal with it right there in theater,” she said. “We find that our younger service members love it because that’s the world they operate in. But we offer both types of counseling, because some of our more seasoned Soldiers prefer face-to-face. We have both capabilities, it’s very effective.”
Army medicine is also working with the American Pediatric Association to look at how to put wellness into its pediatric clinics as well as primary care clinics, Horoho said.
Oftentimes, she said, a parent or child will show up at one of the clinics complaining of aches and pains. But the underlying problems may actually be anxiety, stress or family challenges, Horoho said. The Army wants to embed behavioral health in those teams.
Both Horoho and Medve spoke, July 8, during a presentation at the Military Child Education Coalition’s national training seminar, just outside Washington, D.C.