Psychiatrist Keeps Tabs on Marines’ Mental Health

Story by Sgt. Ned Johnson, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward)

U.S. Navy Lt. Dennis White, a psychiatrist, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Allan Lee, a corpsman, both assigned to the Regimental Combat Team 7 Observational Stress Control and Readiness Team, pose by a sign at Combat Outpost Hanson in Helmand province, Afghanistan, March 14, 2013. The OSCAR Team provides counseling and mental health support to Marines and sailors in the RCT-7 area of operations. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ned Johnson

U.S. Navy Lt. Dennis White, a psychiatrist, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Allan Lee, a corpsman, both assigned to the Regimental Combat Team 7 Observational Stress Control and Readiness Team, pose by a sign at Combat Outpost Hanson in Helmand province, Afghanistan, March 14, 2013. The OSCAR Team provides counseling and mental health support to Marines and sailors in the RCT-7 area of operations. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ned Johnson

One hundred years ago, mental health professionals conducted what might have looked like torture techniques to cure their patients.

Today, the leather couch in a psychiatrist’s office might be just as daunting for some Marines as those torture devices, but treating combat stress is still important.

For Marines assigned to Regimental Combat Team 7, the proverbial couch is often associated with a visit by the Observational Stress Control and Readiness Team, or OSCAR Team.

The team here is made up of sailors who travel the area of operations providing mental health assessments and giving Marines an opportunity to talk about their stress.

“You could say the paradigm is changing,” said Navy Lt. Dennis White, a psychiatrist with the RCT-7 OSCAR Team. “Now instead of (a Marine) coming to us for help, we go to them.”

There are several levels of OSCAR training designed to help identify combat stress and traumatic brain injury as early as possible. Having the different levels helps the system work, White said.

Getting to know the Marines personally helps the OSCAR Team identify issues early and before they develop into a larger problem said White, a 33-year-old native of Dagsboro, Del.

While White and his corpsman assistant, Petty Officer 3rd Class Allan Lee, are based here, they often travel the area of operations to provide support to the Marines. Some of their trips specifically target units who have seen intense combat.

U.S. Navy Lt. Dennis White, a psychiatrist assigned to the Regimental Combat Team 7 Observational Stress Control and Readiness Team, discusses a Traumatic Brain Injury pie chart with Petty Officer 3rd Class Allan Lee, a corpsman assigned to the RCT-7 OSCAR Team, on Combat Outpost Hanson in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Nov. 9, 2012. The OSCAR Team provides counseling and mental health support to Marines and sailors in the RCT-7 area of operations. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Kowshon Ye

U.S. Navy Lt. Dennis White, a psychiatrist assigned to the Regimental Combat Team 7 Observational Stress Control and Readiness Team, discusses a Traumatic Brain Injury pie chart with Petty Officer 3rd Class Allan Lee, a corpsman assigned to the RCT-7 OSCAR Team, on Combat Outpost Hanson in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Nov. 9, 2012. The OSCAR Team provides counseling and mental health support to Marines and sailors in the RCT-7 area of operations. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Kowshon Ye

“Usually we will go to a base after a Marine has been killed in action,” White said. “We will give the unit a 30-minute class on (the signs and symptoms of combat stress) and then usually the next day we will see Marines come in and ask to talk to someone because they believe they have some of the symptoms.”

White, who got his doctorate from Uniformed Services University, said travelling to smaller bases allows the Marine to get help without having to leave his current unit or base.

The OSCAR Team understands the not everyone wants to talk to a psychiatrist, but Lee said being an enlisted service member helps.

“There’s certainly a stigma that comes with mental health on the enlisted side,” said Lee, a 26-year-old native of Sacramento, Calif. “I think it helps that they can come talk to me.”

White and Lee want to help the Marines resolve their issues while minimizing the air of mental instability. If a Marine seeks help it does not mean he is unstable and will be processed for separation.

One way the OSCAR Team helps Marines feel more comfortable with treatment is by allowing them to maintain their professionalism and warrior ethos.

“We do our best to keep the Marines as Marines,” White said. “We are honest with them and want them to know their career is not over.”

White and Lee spend a good deal of time travelling around the RCT’s area of operations which can be tiring and stressful, but White is doing what he wants to do, where he wants to do it.

“I wanted to practice military psychiatry,” said White, an alumnus of Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. “I love being out here and being with the Marines.”

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