War on Terrorism

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Military Opens Mental Health Clinic for Troops in Afghanistan

By Army Spc. Boris Shiloff
Special to American Forces Press Service

Feb. 23, 2009 - Servicemembers in Afghanistan now have a place to turn to cope with the toughest aspects of deployment when they need it most. The Bagram Freedom Restoration Center here is the first mental health clinic for troops in Afghanistan. The center's main goal is to give servicemembers skills to cope with combat stress and the rigors of deployment, and return them to duty quickly.

"We are tapping into things that [servicemembers] possibly already know, or offering them new skills and techniques they can use at the forward operating base or combat outpost, or after they separate from the military," said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mirabel Meekins, the clinic's operations noncommissioned officer in charge.

The clinic hosts a three- to five-day structured program covering many topics, including anger management, common task training, post-traumatic stress disorder awareness and warrior resiliency.

The program has a standard outline for all enrolled servicemembers, but also can be tailored to the specific needs of individuals. The skills and information the servicemember receives from the clinic helps throughout the deployment, but can last long past that, officials said.

The center's focus on quickly returning a servicemember to duty is one of the key aspects of the program. Prior to the clinic's opening, servicemembers in Afghanistan had only two options to address mental health issues. One was to spend a few days of rest and relaxation or light duty at their respective base, and then return to duty. The other was to be evaluated, and if further treatment was needed, the servicemember was sent to Germany or the United States for additional care.

"This fills that in-between gap of people that need a little bit more, but they don't need the whole enchilada," Air Force Col. (Dr.) David Geyer, Task Force Med commander, said.

The program takes many of the components of similar programs in Iraq, and tailors them to the Afghanistan area of responsibility.

A mixture of Air Force and Army mental health and occupational therapy professionals makes up the clinic staff. It's staffed 24 hours a day, and all members of the staff are involved in helping the servicemember get back to duty.

"We're really pleased to have this center," Geyer said. "We're looking forward to the ability to provide the same kind of service that other servicemembers have had the benefit of in the Iraqi theater."

(Army Spc. Boris Shiloff serves in the 40th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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