USAFSAM readies operational mental health care providers

  • Published
  • By Shireen Bedi
  • Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs
The U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine has set up Air Force’s first operational training program for embedded mental health care providers and technicians, preparing them to join Integrated Operational Support teams.

Since May, Air Force mental health care providers, technicians and social workers going into IOS positions can receive specialized training at USAFSAM, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. The goal is to provide the skills needed to support the squadron and their commander.

IOS teams embed within squadrons and offer front-line, consultative support for Airmen and leadership. They are typically embedded within high-demand and high-risk career fields, addressing the needs of the entire squadron. Adding mental health providers enhance IOS teams’ ability to improve squadron performance.

“We are there to advise commanders on ways to improve the operational environment so their Airmen can perform well under strenuous, high risk conditions,” said Tech. Sgt. Michael Tryon, non-commissioned officer in charge of the Aeromedical Operational Psychology program at USAFSAM. “Focusing on the entire squadron helps understand the root causes of mental and behavioral health issues.”

According to Tryon, working as part of an IOS team is different than working in a medical group setting. Providers and technicians integrated into the squadron gain a strong familiarity with its mission. The specialized training teaches them to look for systemic solutions to health issues facing each squadron, and how to best educate its Airmen.

“Traditional residencies and technical schools have a heavy focus on providing care in a clinic,” said Tyron. “Working in a consultative IOS role can be a dramatic shift for many mental health providers and techs. They often aren’t sure what they’re walking into with this new duty position.”

To address these role differences and demands, the IOS training program was developed in collaboration with psychologists and technicians with embedded support experience. It is a weeklong course that builds on the normal clinical skillsets to provide an introduction to embedded care.

Topics cover such things as how to fulfill the consultative role to operators and leadership, knowing how to measure the impact of mental health IOS services, and understanding Total Force warfighting communities and their specific mental health needs.

Currently, training is only at USAFSAM, but Tryon anticipates the IOS training program will expand.

“It is exciting getting our mental health care providers and technicians out of the medical group and getting into the units, using their skills to more directly impact the mission at an operational level,” said Tryon.

As the IOS platform grows, so will the need for specialized training.

“The IOS mental health training course addresses a vital opportunity for embedded providers,” said Chief Master Sgt. G. Steve Cum, Chief, Medical Enlisted Force. “As IOS continues to grow, it is critical that training programs are available to better support these providers and technicians who are caring for our Airmen. The providers at USAFSAM have developed the necessary training for these embedded providers to better serve our Airmen working in high-demand units.”