By Warren W. Wright Jr.
| U.S. Army Medical Department Activity, Fort Drum, NY | Oct. 16, 2019
FORT DRUM, N.Y. – Members of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry)’s Embedded Behavioral Health (EBH) team stand for a photo during the team’s open house on Fort Drum, N.Y. Sept. 26. The EBH is a specialized behavioral health team located within walking distance of the Soldier’s place of duty, improving access to behavioral health care, increasing mission readiness, identifying Soldiers with behavioral health challenges as early as possible and serving as a clinical platform for quality care delivery. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Medical Department Activity, Fort Drum, N.Y.) (Photo by Todd Benham)
Soldiers understand that in order to be effective on the battlefield, they must be physically ready for the fight. That means taking care of their health through vigorous physical fitness, eating right and protecting themselves from injury whenever possible. However, a Soldier’s emotional wellbeing is just as important as their physical health when it comes to their ability to accomplish the mission – and that’s where the Army’s behavioral health professionals perform a pivotal role.
To demonstrate their capabilities to leaders and answer questions pertaining to their unique clinical platform, behavioral health professionals with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry)’s Embedded Behavioral Health (EBH) team hosted an open house at their Fort Drum, New York facility Sept. 26.
“We have these open houses for the leadership, from brigade, battalion and companies, who maybe aren’t familiar with the services (we offer), to answer questions for them, give them some information about what services we provide and guide them as how to manage Soldier issues that could come up,” said Zachary Collins, the 2nd BCT EBH team leader and clinical psychologist. “By having that facetime with the units, you can really open a lot more channels so that Soldiers are getting the care that they need.”
The purpose of EBH is to improve access to behavioral health care for active-duty Soldiers by having behavioral health professionals located within walking distance of the Soldiers’ place of duty. EBH teams are comprised of licensed clinical social workers, psychologists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, nurse case managers and other behavioral healthcare professionals working as a team within one brigade.
“I got here in November of 2011, and all the behavioral health services on post were out of one building for everybody in the division and it was very challenging, possibly impossible, to build a constant relationship,” Collins said. With EBH, “the idea is we are here in the footprint and we’re also aligned by battalion as providers, so if you’re in that battalion, you have one point of contact for behavioral health.”
By having EBH teams located within close proximity to the Soldiers they support, the behavioral health team is able to increase mission readiness of operational units, identify Soldiers with behavioral health challenges as early as possible, improve communication between behavioral health professionals and unit leadership, and serve as a clinical platform for quality care delivery.
“It comes down to taking care of ourselves,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Wendy Menendez, the senior enlisted leader of the U.S. Army Medical Department Activity, Fort Drum, New York. “We have a mission to do, but if we’re not taking care of ourselves, then we can’t accomplish the Army mission.”
Since its establishment in 2014, the 2nd BCT EBH team has had more than 40,000 patient visits and an average of approximately 170 Soldiers visit the clinic each week, the bulk of which do so without any impact to their daily jobs.
“The majority of patients seen here are still doing their job every day; they have no duty limitations and the command doesn’t really need to know that they’re coming in,” Collins said. “Behavioral health isn’t just the Soldier that goes to the hospital and can’t train.”
Collins attributes the success of the EBH program to the support his team receives from unit leadership, something he hopes will carry on into the future as new leaders come on board.
“Leaders across the Army get it and it’s gotten a lot better since we’ve stood up embedded behavioral health,” the Ithaca, New York native said. “Leaders care about their Soldiers, and when they see that we also care about their Soldiers and we also care about their mission and we are helping them balance those two things; it’s been really good.”
For Collins, working with the Soldier population at Fort Drum and with the 2nd BCT is more than just a job. Following graduate studies, he interned at the Veterans Association hospital in Syracuse, New York, and has had multiple family members who’ve served in the armed forces, making his position as a behavioral health team leader more personal than most.
“It’s just a tremendously rewarding population to work with,” he said. “It’s a population that’s very open to treatment and it’s a population where we can get to people earlier. This is my dream job – I couldn’t imagine a better job.”