Inspector general explains purpose of mental health evaluations

  • Published
  • By 23rd Wing Inspector General office
  • 23rd Wing Inspector General office
With the many stressors in Airmens' lives, it is important for them to know how they can receive mental health care and evaluations.

A mental health evaluation is a tool available for commanders to use to help prevent Airmen from harming themselves, others or military assets. They give commanders the standards needed to monitor the mental health status of their Airmen and refer them as needed.

There are three ways individuals can receive assistance: voluntarily, involuntarily or improperly.

All Airmen have the right to voluntarily seek assistance from any Air Force support agency, including a mental health clinic. Mental health evaluations are governed by three separate directives and instructions.

Department of Defense Directive 6490.1, Mental Health Evaluations of Members of the Armed Forces, states, "voluntary hospital admission is appropriate if the provider, privileged to admit psychiatric patients, determines that admission is clinically indicated, and the servicemember has the capacity to make an informed decision about treatment and hospitalization, and voluntarily consents."

Air Force Instruction 44-109, Mental Health, Confidentiality, and Military Law, states, "The Air Force recognizes that members who receive help from mental health professionals can improve their job performance as well as their overall well being, and consciously endorses caring involvement by supervisors. Supervisors and commanders may not, however, under any circumstances attempt to coerce members to voluntarily seek a mental health evaluation."

In the event a member chooses not to voluntarily seek help, commanders have an alternate method in getting the member assistance.

DoDD 6490.4, Requirements for Mental Health Evaluations of Members of the Armed Forces states, "The responsibility for determining whether or not referral for mental health evaluation should be made rests with the servicemember's designated commanding officer at the time of referral." It also adds, "Only the member's commander may direct the member to undergo a mental health evaluation or to submit to involuntary admission to an inpatient medical or mental health (psychiatric) unit."

An improper mental health evaluation can adversely affect a member's career, as well as the individual who has directed them to be evaluated. An improper mental health evaluation is usually linked to an unfavorable personnel action taken against the member for filing an Inspector General complaint, but that is not what they were designed for.

DoDD 6490.1 states, "No person may refer a service member for mental health evaluation as a reprisal for making or preparing a lawful communication to a Member of Congress, any appropriate authority in the chain of command of the Service member, an IG or a member of a DoD audit, inspection, investigation or law enforcement organization."

Improper mental health evaluation investigations can also be the result of a well-intentioned commander or supervisor who didn't follow the proper steps to conduct the initial evaluation.

To help avoid an improper mental health evaluation accusation, supervisory personnel should include multiple Air Force social support agencies when encouraging Airmen to seek mental health care.

If an individual becomes concerned for a fellow Airman's well-being, that person can let that Airman know of the options available. If that doesn't have an effect and an individual is still concerned, somebody in that Airman's chain of command should be informed. Only an individual's commander is authorized to direct an individual for an evaluation and that can only be done once the proper steps have been followed.

Available agencies include the Base Chapel, Military One Source, Airman and Family Readiness Center, Military and Family Life Consultant Program and the Health and Wellness Center.

For more information, contact the 23rd Wing Inspector General office at (229) 257-3341/5696.