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Behavioral health conference educates providers on military culture


FORT DRUM — Before civilian behavioral health providers treat their military patients, they should become educated on military culture.

That was the message from Miyako N. Schanley during Samaritan Medical Center’s annual behavioral health conference Tuesday at The Commons. The Army reservist, who is also executive director of the SUNY North Country Consortium, was promoted Wednesday to the rank of brigadier general and for assignment as commander of the 411th Engineer Brigade, New Windsor.

She said soldiers who have been posted to Afghanistan and Iraq have unique situations.

“Only about half of a percent of Americans have fought in these conflicts,” she said. “They’re an all-volunteer military. Very few Americans are able to understand what our veterans and active duty soldiers have been through.”

The first suggestion, Mrs. Schanley said, is for providers to be aware that the military has its own laws, clothes and language. Providers should never say, “I know what you’re going through” unless they’re true to their word, she said.

“It’s particularly difficult to relate to if you haven’t been in the military,” she said.

To put things into perspective for the crowd of nurses, doctors, therapists, social workers, and other medical professionals, Mrs. Schanley said people in the military often move every few years, are deployed, sacrifice personal special events or occasions, are on duty 365 days a year, and when in combat they have to continue with their job despite traumatic situations where a buddy has been killed or they witnessed an improvised explosive device go off and harm several fellow service members or the enemy.

Deployments, in particular, also take a toll on families left waiting, worrying and wondering at home, she said.

“You would think every homecoming and reunion is joyful, but it is not,” Mrs. Schanley said. “It’s coming back to any roles that have changed.”

The best thing behavioral health providers can do for their military patients, she said, is to give them a chance to ask questions about what they’re going through or treatment itself, and to be sensitive to situations they may have experienced.

Because of the area’s large military population, many off-post providers treat service members and their spouses and dependents. Post-traumatic stress disorder is one of the more common diagnoses of local service members that area behavioral health providers treat, which is why Tuesday’s conference focused heavily on that diagnosis.

Presenters Dr. Todd L. Benham, Fort Drum behavioral health chief, and Candace M.Monson, director of clinical training at Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada, said providers should also be on the lookout for an updated diagnostic statistical manual of mental disorders. Expected to be released within a few weeks by the American Psychiatric Association, the manual will restructure how clinicians may help patients deal with trauma.

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