Vandenberg rolls out new annual MHA requirement

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --

A Mental Health Assessment is now a part of every annual Periodic Health Assessment, to help ensure Airmen suffering from undiagnosed mental health issues are referred to the necessary care.

Mental health issues are often invisible to others, making them difficult to diagnose and leading to unnecessary suffering. By implementing yearly screening, more Airmen in the early stages of mental illness will be identified and referred for treatment, helping them heal and improving overall medical readiness.

“The MHA is a small section of the PHA, which focuses on mental health questions,” said Sheila Misra, Space and Missile Medicine nurse practitioner. “It asks members whether they’ve had stressors during the last month, focuses on recent alcohol usage, depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms, any history of mental health access, and if they’re taking any medications for mental health reasons.”

In addition to filling out the online questionnaire for their annual PHA, Airmen will speak with a trained healthcare provider or licensed mental health professional to complete the person-to-person component.

“The member will complete the mental health questionnaire online during their PHA,” said Misra. “Once that’s complete, public health will schedule an appointment for the Airman to speak with me. The telephone interview takes three to ten minutes, where I review their answers to the questions on the mental health PHA. My goal is not to pry, just to document.”

This requirement was implemented throughout the Department of Defense as an effort to combat the influx of suicides and mental health issues. It is designed to reach out to members as an early intervention to determine the best outlet for their needs.

“We just ask that Airmen make sure they are in an environment where they feel they can speak freely,” said Misra. “Work may not be the best option, so if they have a home phone number where I can reach them, I will call them at whatever that scheduled appointment day and time is. It’s very important that they answer my call, or it’s considered a no-show to an official appointment.”

Although the focus is on mental health, this process also connects Airmen with resources for stress, alcohol, and counselling.

“I’ve heard from individuals who say they answer questions on the PHA survey in a private location where they can really think about the questions and answer them honestly, and now someone’s actually responding back,” said Capt. Aubrey Reid, Space and Missile Medicine flight commander. “Sometimes during a face-to-face appointment you are too focused on one issue and you don’t feel comfortable talking about other issues, struggles or life stressors. Airmen are now given that opportunity where they have a moment to fill out that questionnaire and then have someone contact them; that really gives us the opportunity to focus in and help them. I’ve already seen that we’ve been able to help quite a few individuals, and that’s just in the last couple weeks.”

Airmen can monitor their individual medical readiness using their MyIMR page at https://imr.afms.mil/imr/MyIMR.aspx.