Airmen required to take annual mental health assessment

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

(NOTE: Peter Holstein, Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs, contributed to this story)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – All Airmen are now required to complete a mental health assessment as part of their annual physical health assessment.

According to the Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs Office, mental health issues are a serious problem in the U.S. armed forces as these illnesses are often not visible to others, making them difficult to diagnose.

“Mental health is just as important as physical health and can adversely impact physical health,” said Col. Justin Nast, 60th Medical Group chief of aerospace medicine. “Airmen should be afforded every opportunity to get help for their mental health needs.  (They) need to be mentally and physically ready for the demands of their jobs both in garrison and deployed and (we at) David Grant USAF Medical Center want to ensure Airmen are readily able to get help for all of their healthcare needs.”

Prior to the new requirement, Airmen were only required to complete a mental health assessment prior to deployment. The addition of the MHA to the annual PHA has several benefits, said Nast.

“The annual MHA is required for all Airmen and will allow a chance (for them) to voice mental health concerns, even if they did not note any concerns in the online questionnaire,” he said. “If there are any concerns, then the person-to-person contact will facilitate immediate help.”

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than 42 million American adults, roughly 20 percent of the U.S. population, suffer from some form of mental illness. In a 2014 study in “JAMA Psychiatry,” a medical journal published by the American Medical Association, researchers found that 1 in 4 active-duty service members suffer from a mental health condition of some kind.

Providing Airmen who may be struggling with mental health issues another avenue to seek care is incredibly important, said Col. Steven Pflanz, Air Force director of Psychological Health.

“This assessment gives Airmen an annual opportunity to review their mental health with a medical provider and discuss any concerns they may have,” he said. “Making the process routine for everyone reduces stigma and makes it easier for Airmen suffering from mental health problems to obtain care.”

The MHA is expected to increase the workload by about 3,000 assessments for DGMC’s Public Health Flight, which already conducts approximately 5,300 MHA’s annually.

The new requirement will increase the workload for medical staff who make these appointments and providers who conduct the MHAs, said Lt. Col. Natalie Johns, 60th Aerospace Medical Squadron Public Health Flight commander.

“In the past, Airmen, except for flyers, were not required to have a (MHA) visit as part of their PHA,” said Johns. “The MHA requires a visit as part of the PHA that will be accomplished either in person or telephonically.”

Nast asks Travis Airmen to be patient as the staff at DGMC works through this new process. He also encourages Airmen to be proactive about seeking their MHAs.  

“If they are being seen by their primary care manager, and have already completed the online portion of the MHA, (ask if) the face-to-face visit can be accomplished at that time instead of waiting for a telephone appointment,” he said. 

The annual MHA fulfills a requirement of the Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act and uses established Department of Defense questions for early detection of mental health issues. The questions included in the MHA are the same that Airmen see on their pre- and post-deployment health screenings.