By Elaine Sanchez
WASHINGTON, March 30, 2012 - The military is on the right track by taking a holistic approach to resilience building and readiness, a Defense Department health official told nearly 750 behavioral health experts and military leaders here today.
Initiatives -- such as the DOD's Total Force Fitness -- that view people in "a total package ... rather than a sum of parts" are crucial for success, Army Brig. Gen. W. Bryan Gamble, deputy director of the TRICARE Management Activity, told the audience at the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury's Warrior Resilience Conference.
This conference, in its fourth year, is intended to equip service members, units, families and communities with resilience-building techniques and tools.
Total Force Fitness, an initiative led by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addresses mind and body and encompasses eight domains: psychological, behavioral, social, physical, environmental, medical, spiritual and nutritional. These domains are connective pieces in creating a holistic approach to building service members' resilience, Gamble explained.
A holistic approach requires an array of care, and Gamble said the military has placed an emphasis on acquiring new behavioral health experts, both on installations and in the TRICARE system. Meanwhile, "what we need to keep in mind, too, is the continuity of care," he said, "I think that will really help in the long run to establish successful outcomes for our patients as well as improve our readiness."
People spend about 100 minutes per year in medical appointments, Gamble said, which leaves more than a half-million minutes per year in which people can make positive choices.
"If we make sure we're attached soundly to the ground, well-grounded, we can weather any storm personal or professional," he said. "It's a multitude of things, from who we are, to our significant others, to our health, to our sense of being, to our professional satisfaction, to our job, to our faith."
Family readiness is a "critical concern" within the military, Gamble said, noting families are the "backbone" of the armed forces.
"Without the families we would definitely not be where we are today," he said.
Gamble acknowledged the "stresses and strains" families are experiencing after more than a decade of war. He cited a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that found significantly higher rates of mental health issues in Army wives of deployed soldiers as compared to spouses of nondeployed members. These rates increased as deployments stretched to more than 11 months.
This stress has taken a toll on children from military families as well, he noted. A study indicates that emotional challenges increase for children as their parent's deployment lengthens.
Gamble pointed out some DOD resources available to aid families. Military OneSource offers round-the-clock consultants and TRICARE provides eight out-patient behavioral health visits per year without a referral or prior authorization, he said.
The goal, he said, is to shift focus from health care to health. This will take combating issues such as obesity, alcohol abuse and tobacco use, which contribute to a number of health issues. In fact, Gamble cited a study that says half of the cancer within the population can be tied to obesity, inactivity and diet.
The military also offers new and expectant parent education, he added.
Statistics also show that when service members retire, they tend to pack on some pounds, which can, in turn, impact their health. "We have choices we can make that are very important to our long-term health and that of our forces as well," Gamble said.
Gamble suggested people can visit available TRICARE-sponsored web sites that address issues such as healthy living practices, tobacco and alcohol use and abuse, and other topics.
He also encouraged leadership to keep an eye on their troops, and for service members and their families to ask questions and be advocates for their care.
"People are our most important asset," Gamble noted. "It's truly a partnership between all of us to help maintain, sustain and enhance our warriors and families for a better tomorrow."