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My Coast Guard
Commentary | May 20, 2021

The Behavioral Health Program started improvement working group, welcoming new service providers 

By Keisha Reynolds, MyCG Writer

To improve behavioral health services offered throughout the Coast Guard, Rear Adm. Dana Thomas, the Coast Guard’s chief medical officer, chartered the Behavioral Health Improvement Working Group (BHIWG) in the fall of 2020. The group is responsible for analyzing and strengthening behavioral health support services that are essential to sustaining our mission-ready total workforce. 

The BHIWG has three subcommittees focused on the following tangible objectives:

  • Expand access to organic behavioral health capability and capacity
  • Increase quality of behavioral health services
  • Reduce barriers to seeking and accessing behavioral health services

In Flag Voice #536 The Coast Guard Working Group on Behavioral Health, Rear Adm. Joanna M. Nunan the assistant commandant for Human Resources said, “The Coast Guard Working Group on Behavioral Health…is taking action to meet needs emerging among units throughout the country. They recognize that commands have limited access to psychological support resources while the personal and organizational costs of unaddressed problems can be catastrophic.” 

In an effort to achieve the working group goals across the enterprise, the Coast Guard began by expanding the behavioral health workforce; funding for 13 licensed, uniformed behavioral health providers was approved in FY20 with recurring funding being passed in the FY21 budget. Hiring public health services officers into the behavioral health program provides 24/7 availability for members and their commands with regard to needs that can occur when least expected. To date, seven of the providers have successfully on-boarded. Updates and policy developments resulting from the BHIWG will be regularly communicated to the workforce.

In addition, as part of the FY21 funding package, Congress approved several nurse case manager positions to provide additional support to members and commands. These nurse case managers will support and coordinate services when members need additional care due to ongoing psychosocial/medical issues. Health, Safety and Work-Life (HSWL) staff are in the early stages of planning and recruiting for these additional positions. 

“Although our new staff members will be located at or near specific bases, they will be flexible in supporting the needs throughout the entire Coast Guard organization, as needed—not just members in their local area of responsibility,” said Capt. Jerry Mahlau-Heinert, the mental health integrator and lead medical professional responsible for overseeing the expansion of the behavioral health program. “Their services will include training, mentoring and collaborating with other Coast Guard care providers; consulting with commanding officers and leaders to meet identified needs; consulting with members; and coordinating care for patients who are high risk and in need of additional support services.” 

If you are a military member who would like to talk with a behavioral health provider, contact your medical officer or command for a referral. If you are a commanding officer or other Coast Guard leader who would like a consultation regarding prevention/training, intervention, postvention, or have any additional questions, please reach out to your regional medical officer to identify the right resources and personnel to support your needs.

Questions about the BHIWG can be directed to the co-chairs: Capt. Jerry Mahlau-Heinert or Cmdr. Charlene Criss. Here’s additional information about the behavioral health services available, view the Regional Behavioral Health Services flier.