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NEWS | June 24, 2013

Program aids mental health care for transitioning troops

By Amaani Lyle American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va. - Service members and veterans transitioning from the military to Veterans Affairs for treatment or between military treatment facilities now have access to greater consistency in psychological health and traumatic brain injury care, a Defense Department official said.

InTransition, a voluntary, confidential program, supports military members and their families undergoing a change of status, relocation, or return to civilian life, said George Lamb, outreach chief for the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.

The Defense Department's mental health task force determined in 2007 that service members were vulnerable to dropping out of mental health treatment during their transition to civilian life, Lamb said. "So inTransition … provides that supportive service, … and in that process keeps the continuum of care, which builds on itself," he added.

Lamb said a 2012 health affairs report showed that only 54 percent of service members who screened positive for psychological health needs or traumatic brain injury in post-deployment health reassessments went to the VA facilities for treatment. "If you can address those needs early," he added, "there's more of a chance of success in alleviating or reducing the issues related to mental health."

Open to all service branches, including the Guard and reserves, inTransition is part of a Defense Department Health Affairs policy that identifies and screens every service member with a mental health need for referral to the program, Lamb said.

Service members have been receptive to inTransition, he added, noting that 98.7 percent of referrals accept and remain in the program.

The process is simple, beginning with a short phone call to connect the service member to an inTransition coach - a master's-level, licensed behavioral health technician who uses motivational interviewing, readiness and action planning to identify and address challenges, Lamb explained.

"We don't change any treatment planning; we want to make sure that their treatment plan maintains apace as they transition," Lamb said. "Our coach will help them develop a plan to get things in place and … give them coping skills to help that service member connect with their family."

Upon identifying the service member's new location and diagnosis, the coaches make connections to the gaining provider, and through sharing agreements, can confidentially transfer pertinent health information to streamline the transition, Lamb said.

Overseas members have 24-hour telephone access to inTransition coaches, who can address crises and direct them to the appropriate help and offer follow-up assistance.

The inTransition coaches also act as liaisons to assist members with employment assistance, housing and ongoing health care, Lamb said.

"A Military Medicine [professional journal] article in 2011 said 41 percent of the Guard and Reserve were employed by the time of their reintegration, and only 79 percent were employed full-time, Lamb said.

"They attribute that to having mental health issues and not addressing them when they go to seek employment. Continuing your mental health treatment makes you more stable, which is going to increase the likelihood that you're going to land a better job when you get back."

While 54 percent of referrals come from service members self-identifying, Lamb said, anyone - chaplains, first sergeants, friends and spouses - can refer an eligible person to inTransition.

For more information, call 1-800-424-7877 or from outside of the United States, call collect 1-314-387-4700.