Treating Mental Health Impacts of Sexual Assault in Service Members: Pilot Update and Next Steps

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month - - 877-995-5247
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By Kate McGraw, Ph.D.
April 22, 2019

Do you ever wonder how the Department of Defense (DoD) decides which mental health conditions to target and test with innovative, evidence-based treatment programs? Sometimes the prevalence of a particular disorder in the military population guides our efforts, and sometimes it’s the condition’s negative impact on service members and the mission of DoD. Congress recently asked DoD to create a specific type of treatment program for a very unique patient population.

DoD was tasked to develop, pilot, and evaluate an intensive outpatient (IOP) treatment program to provide care to service members who experience mental health symptoms that can accompany sexual assault. After a sexual assault, both men and women can experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, excessive alcohol/substance use, as well as thoughts of self-harm or suicide. An IOP provides a more concentrated form of mental health treatment than traditional outpatient care: Patients work with an interdisciplinary treatment team on therapeutic and educational activities several hours a day, a few days a week, for a few weeks at a time. This is quite different from the traditional one hour session every one or two weeks with a single provider. Congress also directed DoD to include a community partnership component and involve sites that are TRICARE approved. Section 702 of the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act outlines the legislative mandate from Congress for this effort.

PHCoE leads the DoD efforts for this pilot. We quickly assembled an advisory group made up of senior subject matter experts in mental health, sexual assault, TRICARE, and law from DoD, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to help shape the work. We collected evidence from current research, thoroughly reviewed potential IOPs across the nation, and narrowed the field of IOPs to five possible partners.

Once we make final selections, we’ll task our implementation science experts from the Practice Based Implementation Network to begin efforts at the first site by October 1, 2019. After the pilot’s conclusion, DoD will evaluate its outcomes and make recommendations about extended use of the program to Congress no later than 2022.

We’re excited to have another opportunity to translate research into practice. It’s our goal to provide the highest quality evidence-based and innovative treatment approaches to support the recovery of service members who experience sexual assault.

If you have any ideas, suggestions, or comments about this important effort, we want to hear from you!

Dr. McGraw is the deputy division chief of the Psychological Health Center of Excellence. She has a doctorate in clinical psychology and is the lead for the DoD Sexual Assault Advisory Group to the Psychological Health and Readiness Council and a member of the U.S. Peace Corps Sexual Assault Advisory Council.  

The views expressed in Clinician's Corner blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Psychological Health Center of Excellence or Department of Defense.

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