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Fort Drum to pair combat brigades with behavioral health care teams

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FORT DRUM — Soldiers in the post’s three combat brigades soon will be paired with teams of behavioral health-care providers.

The teams, part of an effort described as embedded behavioral care and designed to increase care and reduce the stigma of seeking help, eventually will be placed at buildings near the three brigades’ headquarters. Plans are for the teams to be staffed this summer at temporary spaces, with permanent locations to be built later.

“The ultimate intention is to have facilities in the footstep of where soldiers live and work,” said Dr. Todd L. Benham, the post’s behavioral health chief.

The projected cost in fiscal year 2013 for creating and running the teams is $4.1 million.

Dr. Benham said the plans have been in development for about 14 months, after officials learned of a pilot program at Fort Carson, Colo., in late 2011.

Dr. Benham said one method to reduce the stigma of receiving care is the interaction team members will have with soldiers in professional and informal situations.

“It’s really bidirectional instead of having folks come here for their care,” he said.

Asked whether having such care close to fellow soldiers and supervisors would create concerns about privacy, Dr. Benham said he did not see that risk.

“It’s not like people are taking names at the door,” he said.

Dr. Benham said the facilities have been met positively by division, brigade and battalion leaders, who he said were concerned about their soldiers’ well-being and performance.

“They know our investment is to get soldiers back to work, or, if not, to have a successful transition out of the military,” he said.

The local teams will be made up of 13 staff members, including a psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner, three psychologists, three social workers, a nurse case manager, a licensed practical nurse, two social services assistants and two clerical staff members. Dr. Benham said half of the teams’ staff will be new hires, with the rest from already-operating facilities.

The brigades will pair a behavioral health officer with the teams.

After the three combat brigades are outfitted, Dr. Benham said, smaller teams may be assembled for other units around the 10th Mountain Division, including the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade and 10th Sustainment Brigade.

The behavioral health care teams mirror the Army Medical Home model, which pairs patients with a group of medical providers who track their care.

The development of the paired teams and facilities on post is a continuation of several areas of growth for soldier behavioral health care. The post is changing providers for an off-post behavioral health clinic that will result in a new space in West Carthage.

The embedded behavioral health initiative is one that is moving across much of the military. According to the Office of the Surgeon General, U.S. Army Medical Command, the military plans to establish embedded care for all operational units by fiscal year 2016. The Army will spend $68.21 million for the care in fiscal year 2013, a figure that the office anticipated would increase to $127.05 million in fiscal year 2016.

Dr. Benham called the focus and expanding funding for behavioral health a “huge deal.”

“You can see behavioral health is one of the top priorities of the military,” he said. “We’re definitely getting the care we need.”

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