USA — Services, VA Use Technology for Stress, Resilience Outreach

WASHINGTON — The mil­i­tary ser­vices and the Vet­er­ans Health Admin­is­tra­tion of the Vet­er­ans Affairs Depart­ment increas­ing­ly use dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy to reach out to iden­ti­fy and treat ser­vice­mem­bers with trau­mat­ic brain injuries and post-trau­mat­ic stress dis­or­der.

The sec­ond-rank­ing offi­cers of each of the four ser­vices and a senior VHA leader out­lined for the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee today the many pro­grams and deliv­ery meth­ods they are using to reach ser­vice­mem­bers who may have mild brain injuries or PTSD.

Increas­ing­ly, they are turn­ing toward the “vir­tu­al” inter­ven­tion of the Inter­net and dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy, they said.

“This gen­er­a­tion some­times opens up much bet­ter through Skype” and oth­er dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy “than by sit­ting across the table” from a men­tal health care provider, said Gen. Peter W. Chiarel­li, Army vice chief of staff.

Some 780,000 sol­diers have respond­ed to the Army’s Inter­net-based Glob­al Access­ing Tool to mea­sure resilience, and the ser­vice plans to expand its Web out­reach, Chiarel­li said. Also, the Army uses an Inter­net-based men­tal health screen­ing to assess sol­diers return­ing from deploy­ments, he said.

Build­ing on the their department’s sui­cide hot­line, VA offi­cials last year start­ed an Inter­net-based chat line for ser­vice­mem­bers to dis­cuss stress, said Dr. Robert L. Jesse, a physi­cian and VHA’s act­ing prin­ci­pal deputy under­sec­re­tary of health. “Younger folks are much more used to [chat­ting on the Inter­net and tex­ting on phones] than hav­ing a phone con­ver­sa­tion,” he said.

Using con­sumer-based tech­nol­o­gy is increas­ing­ly impor­tant to reach ser­vice­mem­bers, not only because it’s a medi­um they are com­fort­able with, but also because those not on active duty – Nation­al Guard and reserve mem­bers, and vet­er­ans who have sep­a­rat­ed from ser­vice – are wide­ly dis­persed and some­times hard to reach, Chiarel­li said, not­ing an increase in sui­cides among Guard mem­bers not on active duty.

The increas­ing use of tech­nol­o­gy also can help in get­ting around prob­lems from the nation­al short­age in men­tal health care work­ers. For exam­ple, Chiarel­li said, it would be ben­e­fi­cial for a sol­dier at Fort Camp­bell, Ky., to be “seen” by a psy­chi­a­trist via Inter­net tech­nol­o­gy, rather than be dri­ven 100 miles to Nashville to meet in per­son.

Besides the dig­i­tal­ly based pro­grams, the mil­i­tary offi­cers out­lined numer­ous ways their ser­vices are reach­ing out to troops and their fam­i­lies on issues such as trau­mat­ic brain injuries, post-trau­mat­ic stress dis­or­der and sui­cide pre­ven­tion. All of the ser­vices have increased aware­ness train­ing, start­ing with new recruits, focus­ing heav­i­ly on non­com­mis­sioned offi­cers, and extend­ing to flag offi­cers. All said they are doing pre- and post-deploy­ment screen­ing, and reach­ing out to fam­i­lies.

The Army, in a pro­gram with the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia, has trained more than 1,200 sol­diers to be resilience train­ers to oth­ers, with plans to place them in every bat­tal­ion, Chiarel­li said.

The Navy has a pro­gram called ACT – ask, care, treat­ment, or “ask about your ship­mate, care for your ship­mate, and help him or her get treat­ment,” said Adm. Jonathan W. Green­ert, vice chief of naval oper­a­tions. The ser­vice began 10 train­ing work­shops at 20 loca­tions this year, and plans to open five more by fall. And, he said, more than 100 sailors have been trained to teach oth­ers about con­trol­ling stress.

“Stress is a fact of life, and we want to reframe the issue to one of stress con­trol,” Green­ert said. The pro­grams are designed “to build resilience to stress as part of a healthy lifestyle.”

The Air Force has increased train­ing and coun­sel­ing, and held a “Wing­man Day” in May to under­score that every air­man, regard­less of rank, needs to watch out for changes in oth­ers and reach out to them if they sus­pect they’re not well, Gen. Car­rol H. Chan­dler, Air Force vice chief of staff, said.

The Marine Corps, which has the most sui­cides per capi­ta with 52 last year, recent­ly cre­at­ed a hot­line with the Tri­care West mil­i­tary health plan, in which Marines and their fam­i­lies can call anony­mous­ly 24/7 to dis­cuss stress, said Gen. James F. Amos, assis­tant com­man­dant of the Marine Corps.

Also, Amos said, the Marines focus on both phys­i­cal and men­tal resilience begin­ning at boot camp, and con­duct pre-deploy­ment immer­sion train­ing to get young Marines accus­tomed to a com­bat envi­ron­ment.

“The best thing we can do for them is not only to get them phys­i­cal­ly fit, but we want our Marines to expe­ri­ence back home most of the fear, anx­i­ety, con­fu­sion and fog of war before they deploy,” Amos said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)