NEWS | Oct. 27, 2020

DESRON 60 Spearheads VTC Use for Mental Health Maintaining Readiness for Sailors at Sea

By U.S. Sixth Fleet Public Affairs

These challenging times require innovative solutions to maintain readiness within the fleet. As one of the National Defense Strategy’s top priorities, maintaining readiness applies to a military forces ability to fight and meet the demands of assigned missions in many areas including weapon systems and equipment.

However, an often overlooked aspect of mission readiness is the mental state of service members. With deployed environments being stressful and often isolating, it’s important to keep mental health a top priority.

This mental health mission is why the Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 60 Embedded Mental Health (EMH) team recently collaborated with Naval Hospital Rota and Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) to launch a secure internet protocol router (SIPR) video teleconferencing (VTC) pilot program that provided mental health support to Sailors in need while the ship is underway.

“VTC capability has been a game changer for the effects of mental health on operational readiness,” said Hospital Corpsman Senior Chief Jermy Brower.

“Using secure VTC with our MH care providers offers commanders a wonderful avenue for keeping Sailors healthy and in the fight at sea,” said Cmdr. Craig Trent, former Commanding Officer, USS Porter (DDG 78). “It’s a clear win-win for the ship and crew with no additional costs to the ship. Sailors are able to stay at sea and get the care they need!”

Previously, the pilot program was only tested in San Diego as a proof of concept and had not been tried with forward-deployed Sailors in need. 

“Sailors who had the potential to decline due to mental health problems have been able to receive necessary counseling while deployed, keeping them at sea, medically fit and in the fight,” said Brower. “Now, it is a regularly used form of telehealth in Rota to provide psychological support to Sailors while underway, particularly during mental health crises. “

Brower said that mental health is one of the top reasons for most medical evacuations in the fleet, so this pioneering effort is directly addressing the need for more mental health support for our ships.

“This added resource has improved access to care and increased continuity and consistency of care for our deployed units,” said Brower.

DESRON EMH has completed 53 VTC counseling sessions to date resulting in Sailors receiving vital mental health care while deployed, and resulted in a 91% reduction in mental health medical evacuations within the first year.  Almost all who were dealing with behavioral health related problems have been able to recover and return to full duty.

“As a provider, the best part of VTC is that we are identifying Sailors in acute distress and are able to assess them, while they are in their operational setting,” said Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Miranda, DESRON 60 EMH Social Worker and team lead. “We can get an accurate assessment on their mental health needs and duty fitness, and most importantly, early identification of Sailors who will need follow-up care post-deployment.”

Because of the success of the initial pilot program on the Porter, the service has been expanded to other ships homeported in Rota, demonstrating continued telehealth capability and effectiveness.

"Building and sustaining resilient Sailors are at the core of our combat readiness, and our embedded mental health team is excelling in that task by speaking directly with the Sailors when combat readiness matters most... at sea,” said Capt. Joseph Gagliano, DESRON 60 Commodore.

DESRON 60 EMH team continues to collaborate with Naval Hospital Rota's Telehealth program to expand and enhance Telehealth capabilities, who is actively working to install a SIPR VTC onsite.  They also collaborate with the Bureau of Medicine’s Operational Virtual Mental Health Working Group on program development to share best practices and lessons learned as other mental health teams in the Navy explore additional ways to provide this Telehealth support to their ships. 

DESRON 60, headquartered in Rota, Spain, overseas the forward-deployed forces of U.S. 6th Fleet’s area of operation in support of regional allies and partners as well as U.S. national security interests in Europe and Africa.

U.S. 6th Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with joint, allied, and interagency partners in order to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa.