MDG makes changes for mental health referrals

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --

For members of the uniformed services, it is common to experience stress that can compromise normal functioning at work and at home. Family members can also experience a decline in functioning as they deal with the stress that comes from supporting a loved one serving our country.

The Air Force recognizes the need to provide comprehensive resources to help support our active duty members, dependents, and retirees who may experience an impact in social and occupational functioning due to stress. One such resource is Primary Care Behavioral Health, or PCBH.  

PCBH is a Department of Defense program found in all military service branches that integrates behavioral health professionals such as psychologists, clinical social workers, and psychiatric nurses directly into the primary care clinics. The role of these professionals is to provide consultation to the primary care manager on any medical or mental health condition that may be negatively affecting the social and/or occupational functioning of a patient.

Along with PCM consultation, PCBH providers use brief short-term (one to four 20 to 30 minute appointments), solution-focused interventions to help address physical and emotional wellness concerns with the patient. This program has existed in the USAF for 15 years and is available to ALL adult DoD beneficiaries at Kirtland. Parents of adolescents are encouraged to discuss the availability of PCBH services with their pediatrician.

As of this month, mental health referrals, minus a few exceptions, will be first routed to a PCBH provider for assessment and intervention. Beneficiaries empaneled to the Family Health Clinic will be seen by the PCBH provider located in the Family Health Clinic. Beneficiaries empaneled to either Flight Medicine or PRAP will receive services by the PCBH provider located in the Flight Medicine/PRAP clinic.  

After spending a few months studying mental health based research, the 377th Medical Group made these changes to try to combat the preconceived notions that sometimes come with going to mental health.

“The majority of people who actually have a mental health condition don’t seek treatment, especially in the military, because there’s a fear of duty impact,” said Maj. John Reardon, 377th Mental Health flight commander. “The intent is that if they’re seen in primary care, it’s a less threatening environment, much more anonymous and the service is equally beneficial.”

In cases where the presenting problem will require more intense specialty mental health services, a referral will be facilitated by the PCBH provider to the Kirtland AFB Mental Health Clinic for active duty members. Dependents and retirees may be seen in the Kirtland AFB Mental Health clinic on a space available basis. If services are unavailable, a referral will be placed for services in the local community.

This shift in accessing mental health related care to primary care is the result of a one year pilot study that demonstrated that up to 90 percent of patients had their treatment needs met within PCBH, access to care increased, mental health stigma decreased, and high levels of patient satisfaction were maintained.

Any adult DoD beneficiary interested in behavioral health services can speak with their PCM, go to www.TRICAREOnline.com, or contact the appointment line at (505) 846-3200 and ask for a primary care behavioral health appointment.