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Wing-level team helps Airmen, civilians cope with traumatic events

RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFNS) -- A variety of events, from a death in the family to battlefield casualties, can take a tremendous psychological toll on servicemen and civilians alike.

Air Force officials are taking a proactive role in dealing with such crises, instituting wing-level teams that prepare Airmen and civilians for potentially traumatic events.

Traumatic Stress Response teams comprise people from the mental health office, Airman and Family Readiness flights, the chaplain office as well as peer representatives.

"It's a tool to be used by leaders to promote resiliency in the Air Force," said Tech. Sgt. Brian Hornberger, 359th Medical Operations Squadron Mental Health Flight chief. "TSR teams can respond before, during and after an event. Part of it is pre-exposure preparation, which we tailor to career fields with a propensity to see things that are traumatic, such as security forces, firefighters and medical personnel."

Pre-exposure preparation, also known as PEP, employs an educational approach to discuss typical and normal stress responses and describe basic techniques to manage stress. In addition to PEP, the teams consult with leaders and provide education, screening, psychological first aid and referrals to those who have experienced potentially traumatic events.

Capt. (Dr.) John Waggoner, 359th MDOS TSR team chief, said the teams provide services for "any potentially traumatic event."

"It could be a suicide in a unit, an airplane crash or a family member dying of natural causes," he said. "It's a wide range of things."

Following a potentially traumatic event, TSR services are directed to emergency service workers who may have been exposed to traumatic events as part of their normal duties. Services are made available in response to all air or ground mishaps involving loss of life or major injury and to other events when requested by the unit commander. Natural disasters and terrorist activities are other situations that may require TSR response.

Though much of traumatic stress response work focuses on educating people in at-risk career fields, all people directly involved in a potentially traumatic event have the opportunity to use TSR services, regardless of their career field.

Sometimes TSR services are used for events that do not directly affect local units, Dr. Waggoner said.

"There was a traumatic death in a unit at another installation," he said. "We talked to the same unit here about that event, telling them about stressors and how to best respond to them."

Dr. Waggoner said individuals can seek up to four free one-on-one meetings with TSR team members with no documented note added to their medical records, but those meetings are for education and consultation, not for medical assessment and treatment. People who require additional assistance can be referred to resources on base and in the community.

Sergeant Hornberger underscored Dr. Waggoner's comment.

"The TSR team is not meant for therapy," he said. "We're there for acute intervention and support. We help people establish equilibrium. If they need further help, we suggest resources."

Dr. Waggoner said participation in TSR services is voluntary, but unit leaders may require affected personnel to receive education at a minimum.

He said most people will "recover on their own naturally."

"But we're available when people are struggling," Dr. Waggoner said. "We want to make sure people's coping mechanisms don't turn into something unhealthy."

"We want to enhance people's ability to thrive in the Air Force," Sergeant Hornberger said.

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