Montana Guard Starts Pilot Program on Post-Deployment Stress
By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 3, 2008 TriWest and the Montana Army and Air National Guard recently launched a pilot program to help Guard members and their families deal with post-deployment stress.
TriWest administers the military’s Tricare health care program in 21 western states.
The program gives servicemembers at armories in Helena and Great Falls, Mont., face-to-face and confidential opportunities with TriWest mental health providers to discuss post-deployment stress issues. The providers also participate in monthly unit-level health training.
Post-traumatic stress is a disorder more and more common in servicemembers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. In April 2006, the Montana National Guard formed a task force to evaluate the care and needs of Guardsmen returning from deployments, said Army Capt. Jeremy Hedges, manager of the post-deployment health reassessment program for the Montana National Guard.
The task force made 14 recommendations to change existing post-deployment programs, including mandated enrollment in the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system, mental health-focused training, and the TriWest pilot program, according to a progress report issued in May.
The task force found that the Montana Guard was following all of the state’s guidelines, but that guidelines fell short of taking care of returned veterans, Hedges said.
Cooperation with TriWest, the state of Montana and the National Guard led to the commitment to implement all 14 recommendations. Hedges said officials hope the changes and the TriWest program will aid in providing immediate service and early detection.
“This program has the potential to save lives,” he said. “If a Guardsman has thoughts of suicide or is in a risk category, these professionals will be able to diagnose and talk to him, and immediate referrals will be made for the Guardsman to seek further treatment.”
The program began June 1 and is scheduled to continue through the end of the year. The task force will track progress and feedback, with hopes to secure a long-term commitment from TriWest and other sources, Hedges said.