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‘Super Coaches’ to Assist Servicemembers with Psychological Problems

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 24, 2009 – The Defense Department is launching a new program soon that’s designed to assist transitioning servicemembers in accessing help for mental health issues, a U.S. Public Health Service officer announced here yesterday.

The Transitional Support Program is “designed to bridge potential gaps in psychological health services that can occur during periods of transfer,” when servicemembers complete military service and re-enter civilian life, according to Cmdr. Guy Mahoney, who is detailed to work with the Defense Department.

Mahoney serves as a senior analyst with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs’ force health protection and readiness (psychological health) directorate. He was one of several civilian and military guest speakers who attended yesterday’s Reserve Officers Association-sponsored seminar here on mental health care.

Servicemembers experiencing mental health issues, Mahoney explained, are exposed to a window of vulnerability before they’ve actually seen a health care provider who can address and treat their maladies.

“During those times that folks are not being seen are pending times of great distress,” Mahoney said. “Having someone available and dedicated to servicemembers during these times can be of just enormous help to prevent all sorts of problems from occurring.

“There’s always a need to have somebody ‘in-between’ there for the servicemembers,” he said, adding that the program, which is slated to begin later this week, is open to active-duty and reserve component troops.

The program comes in response to a recommendation from the Defense Department Mental Health Task Force, Mahoney said. It will feature a 24-hour, toll-free phone hotline to connect servicemembers in crisis to trained professional whose job is to direct them to mental health services.

The department is deeply committed to assisting servicemembers with psychological health and traumatic brain injury issues, Mahoney said.

“We have a system that is trying desperately to make sure there aren’t gaps in services,” Mahoney emphasized. “The fact is, when a servicemember leaves a military treatment facility, and they may have a mental health diagnosis of some sort, they may get access to care within a certain period of time, but they may not see a mental health provider for weeks, particularly if they are discharged in rural areas of the country.”

The hotline facilitators are mental health experts who are trained in post-traumatic stress disorders, mild traumatic brain injury, depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions, Mahoney said. The facilitators, he added, also will assist victims of sexual assault and people with personality disorders.

A private-sector, nationwide health care organization has been awarded a contract to manage the transitional support program, Mahoney said.

“We knew that we could not build this [program] from the ground up; we needed to use an existing” health care network, Mahoney said.

The transitional support facilitators will function as “super coaches” and experts in crisis intervention, Mahoney said. The facilitators, he added, will assist servicemembers by ensuring that they access the appropriate mental health services to help them cope with stressful experiences such as family problems, divorce, thoughts of suicide and other issues.

The facilitators “will provide support for the servicemembers in times of distress,” Mahoney said.

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Related Sites:
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs
U.S. Public Health Service

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