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Defense Health Agency Leaders Discuss Suicide Prevention, Future of Military Medicine

Image of Defense Health Agency Leaders Discuss Suicide Prevention, Future of Military Medicine. Defense Health Agency Director U.S. Army Lt. Gen Telita Crosland answers a question from Gretchen Berling, senior director at McKinsey & Company, during the AMSUS-sponsored “Thought Leadership Forum” in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 4, 2023. (credit: Robert Hammer, Military Health System)

The Department of Defense is committed to preventing suicide within our military by creating a supportive environment, improving delivery of mental health services, and reducing the stigma associated with asking for support.

Suicide prevention is about more than just finding a doctor, it’s about noticing warning signs and connecting with an individual before it’s too late.

“Anybody can reach out and put their arm around somebody today and save a life,” said Dr. Brian Lein, assistant director of health care administration with Defense Health Agency. “Think about that.”

Defense Health Agency Leaders Discuss Suicide Prevention, Future of Military MedicineDr. Brian Lein, assistant director of health care administration, Defense Health Agency, sits on a panel discussing suicide prevention during an AMSUS-sponsored “Thought Leadership Forum” in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 4, 2023.
(Credit: Robert Hammer, Military Health System)

Lein emphasized that anyone can help a person in crisis during a suicide prevention thought panel with other senior health leaders from the DHA, Veterans Health Administration, and private industry on Oct. 4, 2023, in Washington, D.C. The forum, titled “Advancing Healthier Communities: Behavioral Health and Other Trends Today,” was sponsored by AMSUS, the Society of Federal Health Professionals.

“The importance of suicide prevention for our military, is one that is key to military readiness and the overall well-being of the force. Not just to that individual, but to that unit, and to the family,” said Lein.

He pointed out that behavioral health isn’t just a health issue. Figuring out what put someone into a situation of a mental health crisis is critical to preventing these situations.

“It is not just on the medical community to have to figure out how to respond to this,” Lein said. “How do we identify what the triggers are that puts the individual in the circle? And in the cycle? Is it financial? Is it relationship? Is it spiritual? What's the issue?”

Lein also shared that he believes “not everybody needs to be seen by a behavioral health provider. How do we broaden the definition of who's a first responder to the behavioral health crisis?”

Many senior DOD leaders have already stood up and said: “’Hey, I have mental health issues, and I'm proud to say that because I reached out and got help.’ We must continue to remove the stigma associated with asking for help!”

Encouraging other leaders to speak out, he said, will help all to seek help before it is too late.

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Telita Crosland, the director of DHA, also spoke during the panel and provided an update on the state of the DHA and spoke on mental health in the military.

When asked about how the DHA is intending to change health care, Crosland shared her direction for the agency; on creating a “person-centered” environment and using technology to facilitate a new way of delivering health care.

She talked about an upcoming pilot project in several treatment facilities where the DHA is launching these new technologies and strategies, as mentioned in the recently released DHA Strategic Plan.

Crosland mentioned that she wants the DHA to lead the evolution of health care from “value-based care” to “patient-centered care”.

“What we're unable to do is break the cycle of the fee for service to remedy, we're unable to break away from the dollars,” said Crosland. “I think in the DHA, we have the opportunity to have that horizontal and vertical, because we are the payer, we do run a system, and our patients stay with us. We have all the right incentives to break away from the primary driver being dollars.”

Defining what it means to have access, other than meaning having an appointment, is one area the project will look at.

“Access from a human perspective may be simply, ‘I need my results.’ It may be a question, it might be a five-minute conversation with a physician,” she said.

“So, that’s the journey we're on. We're starting with primary care and behavioral health.”

“We're going to leverage some of the digital health tools in 2023 that we know make a difference … then we'll model that very quickly,” said Crosland. “Then we'll scale it across the system.”

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Last Updated: November 14, 2023
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