Story by Sgt. Mark Miranda, 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Army Secretary John McHugh made a visit to Joint Base Lewis-McChord Feb. 4 and 5 to conduct a news conference announcing the completion of a comprehensive, Army-wide review of the soldier behavioral health diagnoses and evaluations.
This was McHugh’s third visit to JBLM since being appointed the 21st Secretary of the Army in September 2009. He has statutory responsibility for all matters related to the U.S. Army, including manpower, reserve affairs, installations, environmental issues, equipment and weapons systems acquisition, communications, and financial management.
McHugh visited elements of 7th Infantry Division, including 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division; 16th Combat Aviation Brigade; and 17th Fires Brigade. The visit continued Tuesday with elements of I Corps, the Army Medical Command and installation activities.
The National Center for Telehealth and Technology, commonly referred to as T2, was among the stops McHugh made to JBLM.
The National Center for Telehealth and Technology is a center with the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. Located on JBLM, it is the primary office of responsibility in the Defense Department for integrating technology with psychological health and traumatic brain injury care, according to Gregory Gahm, Ph.D., executive director of T2.
“We always have new developments here at T2,” said Jenn Thorne, T2 public affairs. “The secretary was briefed on our activities on Mobile Health Products, Telehealth Strategic Plan, and Innovative Technology Applications that are being explored and developed.”
“Telehealth provides a way to provide mental health consultations over distance by way of video chat when face-to-face consultations are not possible,” said Dr. Julie Kinn, T2 research psychologist.
“The sessions work a lot like Skype, and can reach soldiers who have difficulties getting to treatment facilities,” Kinn said.
During a briefing and tour of the T2 facilities, McHugh saw the Mobile Technology Laboratory and the Mobile Telehealth Vehicle.
“Because they’re mobile, we can provide clinic facilities to soldiers in remote locations, whether it’s Afghanistan or Alaska, and is especially helpful getting to guard and reserve soldiers,” Kinn said.
McHugh watched demonstrations of smart phone and mobile device applications developed by T2 that make it easier for service members and veterans to monitor their emotional health as they cope with psychological experiences from combat deployments.
The T2 Mood Tracker, first released in 2010 by the National Center for T2, helps users monitor trends of emotions and behaviors from therapy, medication, daily experiences and changes in their environment such as work and home.
Psychologists and software developers at T2 created the applications for users to track and record emotional experiences from a few days to several months to see results over time.
“The results can also be shared with therapists and physicians to monitor a patient’s behavior throughout a treatment plan,” Kinn said. “It takes some of that stigma associated with post-traumatic stress treatment and turns it more into something that looks like a game instead of ‘therapy homework.’”
During the beta testing, more than 2,800 users around the world downloaded the mood tracker application.
“Younger soldiers relate very well to iPads. Presenting solutions in this way is a big step in the right direction,” McHugh said.
Another application highlighted during McHugh’s visit was the Virtual Hope Box application currently in development and testing for smartphones.
“We’re doing trial runs at the VA hospital in Portland,” Kinn said. “Our hope is to address symptoms of depression, and even have it as a measure for suicide prevention.”
Among other features, the Virtual Hope Box allows quick access for a user to get to favorite music, pictures or videos of loved ones, imagery of the good things in life that have personal meaning to individual users.
“It’s fascinating stuff from my perspective,” McHugh said. “One of the biggest challenges we have in behavioral health care is getting soldiers to agree to go, and there are all kinds of reasons for that. … This, I think, helps break down some, if not a large share of that barrier and that disinclination.”
“The other challenge in this environment is money,” McHugh said. “I can see these developments as ways to get into populations that we have not been successful with; to do it in a way that potentially is very cost-effective. For those reasons, this is good and exciting stuff, and I appreciate the opportunity to look at it. I appreciate all that (T2) is doing.”
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