Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington - Leaders and behavioral health experts from communities in and around Joint Base Lewis-McChord, held a behavioral health and wellness panel discussion at French Theater, Jan. 18.

The 10-person panel included medical and transition professionals from across JBLM and the Washington State department of Veterans Affairs. The forum was an opportunity to discuss behavioral health challenges service members and veterans face as they transition from the military.

"I Corps and Joint Base Lewis-McChord are fully devoted to ensuring that our service members are provided with every opportunity to transition well and effectively from active duty to their civilian lives," said I Corps Deputy Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Mark Stammer during his opening remarks.

The panel discussed the demographics of homeless veterans, establishing Veteran Affairs services and how leaders can assist transitioning service members with behavioral health issues.

With the only behavioral health program in the country to be funded by state legislature, Washington State leads the nation in many areas such as behavioral health and transition for service members, said panel member and Director of the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, Lourdes Alvarado-Ramos.

She said the panel discussion, which featured experts from both the military and civilian communities was the first of its kind to be hosted at JBLM.

"I'm pretty sure that we are making history today, joining forces from inside and outside the gates to begin to address common interests in serving our current service members, veterans and their families," said Alvarado-Ramos. "This is going to benefit the military and the civilian community,"

Alvarado-Ramos said current and former military members and their families account for about 35 percent of the state's total population.
She added that 16 percent of the homeless in Washington are veterans, and that veterans also account for almost a quarter of suicides in Washington.

It's a community issue to ensure successful transition of service members and their families, who may be dealing with behavioral health issues, she said.

Col. Phillip Holcombe, Chief of Behavioral Health Madigan Army Medical Center, was also a member of the panel. His advice to leaders is to be patient and ensure that service members transitioning to civilian life are plugged in to the services available to them.

"We also need to treat these folks like adults who are heading to a next life," added Holcombe. "Work proactively with them, talk to them about concreate steps they can (take) to make that next plan."

Keeping various organizations connected for the benefit of transitioning service members and their families facing behavioral issues was a key message of the discussion.

Service members, veterans and family members in need of transition or behavioral health assistance can reach out to Armed Forces Community Service at 253-966-8433, the VA Puget Sound or Veterans Crisis line 800-273-8255.