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Airmen can access behavioral health services in primary care clinics

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AFNS) -- Airmen, veterans and family members seeking care for a variety of mental health and medical conditions have direct access to care from their primary care clinic.

The support is available through the Air Force's Behavioral Health Optimization Program (BHOP), a consultation service within primary care designed to target any issue affecting a person's overall health and optimal functioning. According to Maj. Mathew Nielsen, BHOP chief for the Air Force Medical Operations Agency, BHOP services are not considered mental health treatment, but rather short-term care focused on healthy coping strategies, communication skills and behavioral change.

"Mental health treatment is a specialty service, and BHOP is a consultation service," Nielsen said. "It is similar to when a primary care manager refers a patient to a cardiologist, orthopedist, dermatologist or other specialists when needed."

Nielsen said Air Force data shows that nine out of 10 patients can be effectively treated within BHOP by licensed social workers and psychologists and never receive a referral to a mental health clinic.

"Research has demonstrated that BHOP is a very effective model and we are seeing a lot of patients in primary care," he said. "Patients are getting better and they report being highly satisfied with these services."

Before seeking care from the on base mental health clinic or a community Tri-Care mental health provider, Nielsen recommends first seeking assistance from your military treatment facility's internal behavioral health consultant (IBHC). Last year, he said, nearly 35,000 Air Force beneficiaries benefited from seeing the IBHC at least once. Brief consultation is now available for a variety of topics, such as sleeping better, managing anxiety and worry, weight loss management, coping with chronic illness, pain and stressors, tobacco cessation, improving mood and chronic pain.

"Integrated primary care behavioral health consultation is a premium service for our beneficiaries," Nielsen said. "Most health care systems in the United States do not have these services available."

For more information on BHOP services, or to make an appointment, contact your primary care clinic or ask your PCM for an introduction.

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