Behavioral health makes difference in Soldiers' lives
September 29, 2011
FORT HOOD, Texas (Army News Service, Sept, 29, 2011) -- "We do make a difference in their lives," said Lt. Col Sharette Gray, chief of behavioral health at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, or CRDAMC, referring to the more than 600 patients a day coming to the various behavioral health treatment clinics.
"Usually, it's the one or two negative cases that get the most attention. But we have thousands of success stories where we've helped Soldiers improve their state of mind, develop better ways to cope and function and strengthen their resiliency," Gray added.
CRDAMC's behavioral health department and traumatic brain injury clinic offer comprehensive services for those with mild depressive issues to severe psychosis, and everything in between, according to Gray.
"We have a dedicated staff, all going above and beyond to help their patients. They work as a team, with one goal in mind, to help Soldiers. Not only does the team work with the other clinics, they work with primary health providers, Chaplains and all other post organizations and resources to help Soldiers successfully transition to recovery," she said.
While they don't guarantee 100 percent recovery, the CRDAMC Traumatic Brain Injury, known as TBI, Clinic offers most patients with mild brain injuries a full or near-full recovery.
"All brain injuries -- from mild to severe -- if undetected and untreated, can seriously impact a person's health, but are very treatable, said Lt. Cmdr. Scott Mitchell, physician and officer-in-charge of the TBI clinic. "We saw approximately 10,000 patients last year, and have a 98 percent return-to-duty rate."
Mitchell added that the clinic provides patients with mild and moderate TBI care from referral and screening, to rehab and follow-up. The clinic is staffed with all the essential health care professionals such as primary care providers, behavioral health care providers, occupational and physical therapists, speech therapists and neuropsychologists to provide patients with an individualized treatment program specific to the patients' needs.
In addition to the latest, standard physical therapy equipment such as treadmills and balance boards and all components of an adaptive living apartment, Mitchell added they are expanding the "Return to Duty" program. That program ensures Soldiers recovering from TBI can perform specific Soldier tasks in addition to normal life functions.
"It's one thing to say a Soldier can perform normal life skills, but something altogether different to say he/she is Soldier-ready," said Mitchell. "We will be adding things that help specifically with warrior tasks such as rehabilitation drills in battle gear and also incorporating small arms and Humvee rollover simulators on post."
"We can help. We encourage all Soldiers who have had a head injury to get checked out and receive proper care. Seeking treatment is a sign of strength, not weakness. For most who sustain a concussion, you can expect a full recovery," he said.
Master Sgt. David McCurry, a National Guardsman with the 168th Aviation Brigade from Pendleton, Ore., said he can attest to the "miraculous job" the clinic did for him.
"On my last deployment to Afghanistan, I was the unlucky recipient of a 107mm rocket blast which threw me 30 feet," he said. "Once something like this happens to you, it changes your whole perspective. I never would have thought that a blast to the head could affect you so drastically. I was really bad. I couldn't walk unassisted, I was always falling down. I couldn't speak and my short-term memory was shot.
"I know I'm lucky just to be alive, but these guys were a Godsend. They treated me with respect and care," he continued. "It can be frustrating, as you can't control what's happening to you. I never thought it would be such a struggle.
"The TBI folks helped me understand that it takes time to recover, but encouraged me all the while that I can get back to normal life," McCurry said. "It's just been a few months and already I'm making progress -- I can walk unassisted and can even drive now."
McCurry admitted that he used to think "all the mental health stuff was a waste of time," but now knows the importance of getting help.
"It may be difficult for Soldiers to get over their hesitancy, but we encourage everyone to seek help when they need it," Gray said. "Besides having the most dedicated staff of professionals who genuinely care about Soldiers, our behavioral health services can really help you. Just as is true with Army medicine, behavioral health treatment in the Army typically leads the field with best practices and evidence-based treatments.
"Driven by the needs and challenges of its unique population, the Army continues to conduct research and studies to ensure Soldiers receive the most effective care," she added.
From treatment of brain injury conditions, life's challenges, or severe stress, the therapists and counselors at CRDAMC all work towards one goal -- success for the individual.
Maj. Rizwan Shah considers himself a success story. Life's challenges -- divorce, deployment stress -- hit him hard during his recent stint with the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade.
"I immediately fell into caretaker mode -- getting all three of my children to counseling. I hadn't thought about my own feelings, until someone asked me who was taking care of the caretaker," he said. "Calling Miss Bayes-Bautista was the best decision I ever made. Turns out, that counseling was just what I needed, someone to talk to, someone who wouldn't judge me and was there just for me."
Shah added that counseling helped bring him back to his "happy self," and that he is continuing family therapy with his children to help his family heal.
"Cases like Major Shah are really what make it all worthwhile. I find it so rewarding to help Soldiers," said Kimberly Bayes-Bautista, supervisory social worker for the CRDAMC Social Work -- Out-Patient Services. Bayes-Bautista, a self-described Army brat, made the decision to come back to her Army roots a few years ago and use her years of social work experience to help Soldiers.
"I know how military life can be, and the constant challenges Soldiers face. I also know the tough stigma that keeps Soldiers from asking for help," she added. "Providers here truly care about Soldiers' well-being. Talking to a therapist expands your support network. It isn't a miracle cure, but it can help change negative thinking, thereby changing negative behaviors."
While the department of social work helps with many individual and family issues, the Resilience & Restoration Center is typically the first stop for Soldiers who need urgent and long term behavioral health services. It provides a variety of routine and ongoing care such as intake evaluations, individual and group therapy, psychological testing and medication management.
The Warrior Combat Stress Reset Program, or WCSRP, offers treatment for combat-related post traumatic stress disorder through various types of traditional treatments as well as complementary and alternative medicine modalities such as acupuncture, biofeedback, and pet-assisted therapy.
"Our goal is to help you get better and we'll do whatever it takes, whether it's traditional or alternative therapy," said Dr. Elizabeth Stanczak, clinical psychologist at the R & R Center. "We know there are some short-comings in the system, as in any system, but bear with us and trust that we all are interested in helping you. We will make sure you get the right care for your needs."
Stanczak said, like the others on the team, she is committed to helping Soldiers and "that they aren't just checking boxes." Stanczak left private practice and health services management to work with Soldiers, and convinced her husband to also join the CRDAMC behavioral health staff.
A former Soldier herself and mother of a Soldier, Stanczak said she understands what it means to be a Soldier.
"As a Soldier, you are going to have many, many experiences. Some will be good, and some not so good. When it gets to be too much, it doesn't mean you're less of a Soldier if you need help. It's just a matter of achieving that balance, it doesn't all have to be negative," she said.
Sgt. Jason Vaughn, a recent graduate of WCSRP, said he is grateful for how the program helped him "get back to feeling as normal as I can."
"Before the program, everything was hard for me. My relationships struggled. I couldn't be in crowded places. I was angry all the time," he shared. "They really helped me. The micro-current therapy device we tried worked better than anything else in helping me relax and reduce stress. All in all, I'm so much better now. I smile a lot more. I'm getting back into the things I used to do."
The WCSRP program, a three-week intensive outpatient treatment program, has been quite successful in helping Vaughn and several others to deal with their moderate to severe post traumatic stress symptoms, according to Dr. Jerry Wesch, program director of the WCSRP. He said the most recent class to "graduate" included the 500th Soldier to successfully complete the program.
The reset program and the other Behavioral Health department accomplishments and success stories send a clear message, according to Gray.
"We genuinely want to help you. We're fully capable and skilled to help you. We have helped many Soldiers just like you," Gray concluded. "We are doing everything we can to provide you access to the best care available. We encourage you to take advantage of our help."
The department is growing to meet current demands and an expected surge that will hit Fort Hood when Soldiers return from combat in the autumn. She said on-going and future improvements planned include adding more providers, building new facilities, and expanding services. To further improve access to care, they are working to add additional Embedded Behavioral Health Teams to support brigade combat teams; currently the pilot EBH team is supporting 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division.
"Dealing with the stresses of war is a serious issue for our Soldiers," concluded Col. Patrick Sargent, CRDAMC commander. "At Darnall, we take your mental and physical well-being seriously. We don't label or judge. You just have to get past the notion that you can go it alone. You can trust our staff of professionals to provide you with the best evidence-based treatment and care available today."