23d MDOS ensures Airmen are 'fit to fight'

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Lauren M. Hunter
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs
(Editor’s Note: This story is part two of a four-part series highlighting the different units that played a role in the 74th Fighter Squadron’s deployment.)

Between the 74th Fighter Squadron’s mission and the time they spent away from home, their deployment was physically and mentally demanding for both the Airmen and their families.

To ease this stress, the 23d Medical Operations Squadron mental health clinic analyzes Airmen to ensure they are fit to fight in support of the Air Force’s mission during the pre and post-deployment process.

“During the pre-deployment process, all members must complete an automated neuropsychological assessment and measurement (test),” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Charnell Smith, 23d MDOS mental health flight commander. “This tests Airmen’s concentration and ability to respond, and also provides a baseline to use as a comparison when Airmen get back in the case that they may have suffered an injury.”

For large deployments such as the 74th FS with over 300 Airmen deployed, various health clinics, including mental health, may take their services to the deploying squadron to complete the process. This procedure requires all hands on deck, with more than 10 active duty Airmen helping to clear deployers.

“[When we go out to a squadron], mental health technicians will help out with pre-deployment briefings, set the Airmen up with ANAM testing and do an initial review of the records,” said Smith. “The providers will then come in and review the results of Airmen’s tests and go back over their records to ensure nothing was missed.

“Once that has been done, providers will sign off on their record to say one of three things: they’re cleared from the mental health perspective, there are things they will need a waiver for, or the Airman needs to come in to see a provider face-to-face before they can be cleared,” Smith added.

After this process is done and Airmen are cleared from each medical clinic, they will return to public health where they will get the final approval to deploy.

Although the 74th FS Airmen fulfilled their task overseas, the mission did not stop after they came home. To assist in the post-deployment process, the 23d MDOS reintegrates and works to ensure the health of returning Airmen.

“Before Airmen return home, they are required to fill out a post-deployment questionnaire,” said Senior Airman Aaron Bachtell, 23d MDOS public health technician. “The questionnaire is about seven to eight pages and determines whether the Airmen may need to be seen for a three, seven, or 30-day follow-up.”

Follow-ups can occur for various reasons including a request by the Airman to be seen, contact from medical personnel overseas stating the Airman should be seen or a flagged answer to a question in the deployment health reassessment. For example, any symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder would lead to a notification to the mental health clinic.

“Some bases overseas have expeditionary medical teams, which have the same medical system and electronic medical record access as we do,” said Smith. “So if they are seeing an Airman overseas, they will contact us so that we can follow up with them when they get back.
“If Airmen are still struggling a month after their deployment, that is a point that they should be seen so we can provide them with help before they develop PTSD.”

While Airmen may be recommended to see a mental health technician in order to improve their health, it is important to know that the vast majority of members seen by mental health will never have any kind of career impact.

In fact, it is the contributions of those working in mental health, as well as many other clinics of the 23d Medical Group, that make it possible for Airmen such as those from the 74th FS to continue their mission both here and overseas.