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Shelley Starkey

Behavioral Health Policy and Practice Intern

Congressional Briefing Showcases Unique Mental Health Treatments for Military Members

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The Congressional Mental Health Caucus collaborated with the Military Mental Health Caucus last Wednesday to host a briefing showcasing specialized treatment options for active military members and veterans. The panelists included providers from the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, dog trainers from the Warrior Canine Connection, and a bipartisan group of Congressional Representatives.

Increasing Access to Care for Service Members and Veterans

Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Ivany, MD, from the Behavioral Health Division at the Army Office of the Surgeon General, kicked off the conversation by describing the Army’s response to the increasing behavioral health needs of modern soldiers returning home from the wars in the Middle East. Since 2007, the Army has been ramping up efforts to address common service-related issues like Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by recruiting more providers and establishing behavioral health centers on military posts across the country. By taking a more holistic approach and including unique treatment options like art, music, and yoga therapies, the Army has been able to treat almost 2.1 million service members in the past year alone, roughly 1.3 million more than were treated in 2007.

Alternative Military Mental Health Treatment Models

Melissa Walker, MA, ATR, from NICoE discussed how treatments like her art therapy program can help traumatized service members bypass the need to communicate verbally. By using paint, dance, and other sensory-based therapies, these service members can relay crucial information to providers that may otherwise be difficult to express. Melissa was joined by other NICoE therapists to showcase painted masks, poems, and musical pieces created by patients in their programs.

Rick Yount, the Executive Director of the Warrior Canine Connection, was accompanied by three golden retrievers that had graduated their intensive service dog training program. Warrior Canine Connection aims to help veterans dealing with trauma by involving them in the service dog training process and establishing a therapeutic animal-human connection. One dog can potentially impact more than sixty recovering warriors by reducing social isolation, teaching them to act with patience and confidence, and giving them purpose in training the dog for a fellow veteran.

Congressional Representatives Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Thomas Rooney (R-FL), Jim McGovern (D-MA), and Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) also attended the briefing and voiced their support for these innovative efforts.