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Behavioral health providers increasing processing efficiency

  • Published
  • By Derrik Noack
  • U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command

U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command is assembling a team of clinical psychologists to serve as applicant consult needs. These providers will conduct virtual behavioral health assessments for applicants needing a consult, as determined by their Military Entrance Processing Station or service waiver authorities. The first clinical psychologist, Megan Hart Lee, commenced onboarding in early December and is set to initiate virtual behavioral health consults for MEPS applicants by month-end.

“In the Air Force, I was the mental health officer in charge at Hurlburt Field in Florida before separating this August,” said Hart Lee. “I understand just how important recruiting is and the need for a robust force. As the first psychologist in this role, I’m excited to shape what it looks like and help build the program.”

Hart Lee will begin by focusing on six locations: Beckley, Fort Jackson, Harrisburg, Lansing, Little Rock and Spokane. These were selected from all 65 MEPS based on three key criteria: how long it takes applicants to see a psychologist, how many evaluations on average they need a month and how many they had queued.

“We had to identify those with the most need as we get this program started,” said Air Force Capt. Daniel Strickland, USMEPCOM deputy command surgeon. “This is going to have a huge impact, so we’re very excited to get Hart Lee on board. Her background lends an advantage in getting started, but the DoD standards we follow are teachable to anyone. We’re hoping to bring more psychologists to the team in 2024.”

Up until now, behavioral health consults were solely administered by civilian doctors in the community of the applicants, resulting in a wide range of wait times and results. The command is looking to hire three more clinical psychologists to help cover the growing demand of behavioral health consults for military applicants.

“In today’s recruiting environment, USMEPCOM is laser focused on finding ways to shorten the time is takes for an applicant to join their respective service,” said Army Col. Megan Stallings, USMEPCOM commander. “Behavioral health consults are often our longest waits, so we are taking the proactive step to bring that capability in-house, thereby providing better customer service to our recruiting partners and applicants.”

The providers will aid in the medical review process by making an assessment on a potential candidate for military service. By reviewing the applicant’s medical history and conducting a virtual interview, they will input their evaluations into the military health system, MHS GENESIS, for MEPS personnel to immediately see.

“Behavioral health consults are unique because it’s a communicative evaluation, so it can be done virtually,” said Army Col. Kevin Cummings, USMEPCOM command surgeon. “You don’t need to have the applicant in front of you, listening to their heart or lungs. There are several occupational health jobs that require a behavioral health assessment or screening before they will hire somebody into one of those positions. Anybody with that kind of experience would be great for us because that’s what this job is, it’s a screening.”

The behavioral health providers won’t be expected to hit the ground running. They will undergo training on how to use MHS GENSIS and travel to MEPSs to understand the mission, who they serve and what those personnel are looking for in medical evaluations.

“By visiting the MEPS, these new providers will have a much better perspective on what we are looking for,” said Cummings. “Eventually, they will work with our MEPS doctors to refine their processes. They’ll let our doctors know when an applicant has specific things in their history, they don’t need a consult or what to ask for specifically when requesting a consult. There are some real benefits when it comes to the quality of their assessments and ability to clarify if there are any questions.”

Last year, the command outsourced 4,600 behavioral health consults from civilian doctors across the country. The most diagnosed behavioral health condition was attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, which often is diagnosed in childhood. With the decrease in social stigma around mental health care, ADHD diagnoses have been rising for decades.

“Behavioral health consults are going up every year,” said Cummings. “It’s important for us to evolve, and add personnel when we need to, because the environment that we’re operating in is always evolving. The recruiting market has transformed in a way that, five years ago, people did not anticipate. There’s much more focus on the speed in which we can process an applicant. We need to remain agile as we look to what we can do. This is a huge step to increase efficiency at the MEPS.”