EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --
We have all heard the warnings: “Don’t go to Mental Health unless you want to get kicked out,” “They take away your weapons,” “You will never fly again if you seek out Mental Health services,” and “They tell you, you can never drink again.” So, what is the truth? Do they really end our careers, take away our weapons, prevent us from being on flying status, or tell us we can never drink? Do they have this power?
Recently there was an email sent out to the Wing regarding Non Judicial Punishments and discharges that occurred between October and December 2017. Four of the eight discharges listed were incorrectly documented as coming from the Mental Health Clinic. According to AFI36-3208 paragraph 5.11, “Airman may be discharged based upon a physical or mental condition which a commander has determined interferes with assignment or duty performance, but which does not make them eligible for disability processing under AFI36-3212, Physical Evaluation for Retention, Retirement, and Separation.” While an Airman may be diagnosed with a mental health condition by a Mental Health provider, it is still the commander’s authority that determines whether or not that Airman is fit for military service when a Military Evaluation Board (MEB) is not warranted.
Here’s what you need to know: The mission of the Mental Health Clinic is to ensure readiness and fitness for duty for all Airmen regardless of rank or position. They do this by providing education and treatment for alcohol and drug misuse, offering services to prevent/treat family maltreatment, promoting resilience, and enhancing positive coping skills for common conditions such as stress, anxiety depression, and PTSD. The Mental Health Clinic’s primary goal is to assist Airmen in overcoming the challenges they are facing and get them back in the fight as quickly as possible, with the tools they need to get through difficult times.
Let’s talk about the Alcohol & Drug Abuse Prevention Treatment (ADAPT) program for a moment. The primary objectives of the ADAPT program as outlined in AFI44-121, paragraph 3.3.1, “are to promote readiness, health, and wellness through the prevention and treatment of substance misuse and abuse, to minimize the negative consequences of substance misuse and abuse to the individual, family, and organization, to provide comprehensive education and treatment to individuals who experience problems attributed to substance misuse or abuse, to restore function and return identified substance abusers to unrestricted duty status or to assist them in their transition to civilian life as appropriate.”
The ADAPT program exists to prevent, educate, and treat substance misuse and return Airmen to full duty status. After being referred to ADAPT by command, medical staff, or self-identification, Airmen meeting criteria for a substance diagnosis are enrolled into treatment. Airmen that are assessed by ADAPT and do not meet criteria for a substance use diagnosis are provided with a brief educational program consisting of 1-3 targeted sessions. Most Airmen complete the treatment or education programs successfully and move on with their careers; however those who are unable to adhere to the rules can be removed from the program. In order for an Airmen to fail the ADAPT program, a Treatment Team (TT) meeting must be convened that consists of the patient, ADAPT Program Manager, Patient’s Commander and First Sergeant, Certified Alcohol & Drug Counselor (CADC), and Medical Provider.
The TT then reaches the determination decision collaboratively: “The TT Determines a patient to have failed the program based on a demonstrated pattern of unacceptable behavior, unwillingness to engage with ADAPT Program after having an Alcohol Related Misconduct (ARM), inability or unwillingness to comply with their treatment plan, or involved in a subsequent ARM after receiving initial treatment. The determination that a patient has failed treatment is based on the patient’s repeated failure to meet or maintain Air Force standards (behavior), rather than solely on the use of alcohol. Individuals who have been determined as failing the ADAPT Program shall be considered for administrative separation by their unit commander.” (AFI44-121, paragraph 3.18.2.)
Once again is it the discretion of the commander to determine if the Airman is discharged from the Air Force.
Why should we care about all of this? From October to December 2017 the Mental Health Flight treated 162 individual Airmen for various mental health related concerns. Taking the four Airmen whose command determined to administratively discharge and dividing it by the 162 Airmen, we get 2%, which means that 98% of the Airmen that sought out care were returned to duty. Proof that the majority of the Airmen that seek help, see no career impact. Airmen that have career impact are usually victims of their own poor choices. To simplify this more, if we break our arm, we seek the care of our primary care provider. If we don’t, we face the consequences of poor healing, chronic pain, and potentially not being able to perform our duties as an Airman which may result in a discharge. The same is true for mental health conditions. If we wait too long and the problem becomes too great, we suffer the repercussions. So why wait, when in reality most Airmen who seek help and are able to go about their lives with a healthier mind and without any impact on their career.