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TSR: There to listen

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Witnessing or being involved in a traumatic event can be difficult for a person's mental or spiritual health. Some people affected by tragic events may not know where to turn, where to unburden themselves of these feelings. 

The Air Force has taken these needs into consideration and offers Airmen the Traumatic Stress Response team. 

"The goal is to educate, consult and guide people and give the opportunity to get back on track," said Lt. Col. Anderson Rowan, commander of the 30th Medical Operations Squadron's mental health clinic. "This is not medical intervention, there's no documentation done." 

A TSR is made up of members from the mental health clinic, wing chaplain's office and Airman and Family Readiness Center. This combination ensures that everyone's needs are taken care of in the case of a tragedy. 

"There's a lot of overlap in terms of how we function," Colonel Rowan said. "We kind of do the same roles, but we bring different skill bases and areas of knowledge and experience. For example, AFRC works a lot with families and we don't work with families here (at the mental health)." 

Here's how the three sections come together: when an event occurs, such as a car accident, hurricane or suicide, an assessment is made as to whether or not those involved may be suffering from emotional or mental trauma; if so, the TSR is called in. Depending on the situation, one or more team members may show up to the scene. The TSR member will speak to those involved, such as first responders, and give them a chance to talk. 

"When you get to a broad scale - if there's an earthquake and the whole base is affected - we're probably going to be calling in help, because our small team would be overwhelmed," Colonel Rowan said. "There are Air Force teams that could be brought in to assist. After 9/11 teams were brought in from different bases to give support to the local bases in the area." 

But they don't just go to the scene. If a person committed suicide, for example, the TSR may do a mass briefing with that person's squadron; it's based on an initial consultation between the TSR and the squadron commander. 

Another benefit of the TSR is that Airmen aren't cut off from consultations after one meeting. They can speak with the chaplain or A&FRC as often as they need. Also, under TSR rules, Airmen may get up to four meetings with mental health without documentation being filed. 

"Under TSR we do not have to document meeting people individually because it falls under education/consultation goals," Colonel Rowan said. "First we identify those who were exposed to the traumatic event, then determine the nature of the intervention - immediate intervention, or they might need follow ups." 

One example of a recent event that required TSR intervention involved the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron fire department. A member of the fire department was injured while fighting a wild fire. Although the injured fire fighter ended up being OK, the TSR was there to provide treatment for those who needed it. 

"A lot of times the guys don't want to talk when they should , because there's a peer pressure to suck it up and be tough," said Mark Farias, the fire chief of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron. "As a supervisor, it's our job to check on our guys and see if they want to talk to someone outside of the shop. A counselor has a lot of experience in different areas and brings a different slant to the situation." 

Getting people affected by traumatic incidents, no matter the severity, allows TSR to accomplish their key goal - prevention. 

"What we want to avoid happening is people getting to the point where there symptoms are so bad they require treatment and it impacts people's lives," Colonel Rowan said. "A lot of times people have these strong reactions, and what they might do to cope will actually make it worse." 

For example, people may try to cope by blocking out thoughts of the event, even to the point of avoiding talking about it. It's that avoidance that can actually prolong the symptoms, he said. 

"We want to promote healthy coping," Colonel Rowan said. "People do bounce back, and those that bounce back anyway - we'll help them bounce back faster." 

For more information on Traumatic Situation Response here, call the mental health clinic at 606-8217.