By Spc. Alexander NeelyAugust 16, 2012
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait - For all service members in theater preparing for the retrograde in Afghanistan, the military is utilizing outlets such as Outpatient Cognitive Intervention Program, to ensure soldiers' mental safety and personal welfare.
The OCIP, which is the only one of its kind in theater, is a three-day mental health service that attempts to promote immediate symptom reduction to achieve improved social and occupational function.
"Everybody has no problem taking their car to the shop to get fixed, going to the doctor to get medications for when they are sick, but if you are struggling with something and it is mental health related we apply a certain stigma to it," said Senior Airman Ebony Santiago, senior health technician attached to the 325th Combat Support Hospital. "So, it is great to see these soldiers stepping up, coming in and saying they need help."
On a strictly volunteer basis, the program is conducted under the supervision of chaplains and psychiatric professionals such as psychiatrists, psychologists, certified psychiatric mental nurses, and Navy-trained psychiatric technicians. These professionals aid in the progress of each soldier, said Sgt. Morie Dotson, behavioral health technician for 325th CSH.
"We teach them a variety of classes for coping skills, anger management, stress management, sleep, conflict resolution and we try and address common issues that soldiers have at home and when they are deployed," said Dotson.
OCIP not only aids in the welfare of soldiers but the program cuts back on government spending.
Since October 2011, 236 patients have attended the program saving the government an estimated $60 million by not flying each service member to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, said Dotson.
With the impending drawdown of Afghanistan on the horizon, Dotson believes the OCIP can draw similarities to the Iraq drawdown to prepare.
"There was a huge uptick in numbers during the Iraq drawdown," said Dotson, "We are trying to get all of our SOPs [Standing Operating Procedures] in order so that we can have an easy transition this time around."
Aside from the expected psychological cases resulting from combat such as traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder, Senior Airman Tiffany Santiago, mental health technician attached to 325th CSH, explained that other cases are not unlike the ones soldiers suffer from in the United States.
"It is fairly similar to stateside; we see a lot of work stress with co-workers and command, and then a lot of family problems with spouses or children," said Senior Airman Tiffany Santiago, who plans on getting her Master's degree in social work.
Recently, a study conducted by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs suggests that 10 to 18 percent of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom troops are likely to have PTSD after they return. Although success is nearly impossible to measure in numbers for OCIP, it is still possible to witness personal achievements.
"The majority of feedback I get, even from the end of the first day, is people telling me 'Wow, this really puts things in perspective,'" said Senior Airman Santiago, who admitted to wanting to work in the mental health field since she was 15 years old. "The whole point of OCIP is to show these service members that you can't control whatever anybody else does; you can control what you do and how you handle things."