Army expands telebehavioral health care in Afghanistan

Julie Jacobson/AP

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Service connects troops on the battlefield with counselors elsewhere.

The Army has developed and deployed technology to deal with the two signature wounds of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars -- post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho told attendees at the Association of United States Army conference this week.

The service operates 87 telebehavioral health nodes in Afghanistan to connect soldiers in remote outposts with mental health professionals in the rear, Horoho said.

The service kicked off a telebehavioral health pilot project in Afghanistan in 2010 with just four nodes at Bagram Air Force Base that connected troops and clinicians over a secure videoconferencing link. Soldiers who used the pilot system felt comfortable discussing their mental health issues with a remote provider, although they said face-to-face encounters with health care professionals would improve the experience.

The Army plans to field a smartphone system to assess TBI, Horoho said, and in September the Army awarded a $2.8  million contract to BrainScope of Bethesda, Md., for a handheld system that uses advanced algorithms to quantify and characterize features of brain electrical activity associated with TBI .

To measure the effects of blasts on soldiers, Horoho said the Army has begun developing a “blast dosimeter” for individual troops to wear to determine the health consequences of exposure to explosions. She added the service also is looking to field rapid bio-marker tests to identify brain trauma.

The Amy uses stateside telemedicine systems to support the disability evaluation system for wounded or injured soldiers, Horoho said. Clinicians at hospitals in Hawaii and Washington state support evaluations performed at Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Wainwright, Alaska, respectively.