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Crisis teams still helping Pentagon people

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Sept. 13, 2002) -- One year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, teams of military mental health professionals continue to help Pentagon personnel remain ready for duty.

Following the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon, the military mental health professionals at the Pentagon's DiLorenzo TRICARE Health Clinic formed crisis intervention stress management teams to help employees deal with stress related to the attack, said Capt. Bernetta Lane, a registered nurse with the clinic.

"The CISM teams provided as much assistance as possible to those who experienced the crisis," Lane said. "The teams stood up immediately after Sept. 11 and provided around-the-clock intervention and stress-management counseling."

The teams offered a wide variety of services, according to Army Lt. Col. Dermot Cotter, a psychiatrist with the Pentagon's Fit-to-Win Wellness Clinic. "We looked after the bereaved, offered group and family intervention, fostered social support, and provided education on stress responses, traumatic reminders, coping and risk factors," Cotter said. "We also offered coping-skills training and fostered social interaction to try to get them to talk about the situation with others."

The teams, made up of military social workers, nurses, psychiatrists and counselors, worked toward the goal of contacting everybody affected by the attack, said Lt. Col. Steven Vieira, director of the wellness clinic.

"We were able to make 100-percent contact," Vieira said. "We let everybody affected know about the services we offer."

Lane said it was a multifaceted effort to publicize the service.

"We advertised through fliers and posters, and even through the law enforcement of the Pentagon," she said. "We told them because they are the first ones to see people as they come in to the building. If somebody had a question, they could point them in the right direction."

Besides marketing, the team also met face-to-face with those who may have needed help but did not know where to look.

"We worked with a lot of groups. We were invited to a lot of office meetings where we would provide information and tell them about the services we provide," Cotter said. "This was an outreach thing, so in addition to the walk-in clinic, we went around the Pentagon and to outside offices where people had been displaced."

The immediacy that spurred the creation of the CISM teams last year has largely subsided, but the teams continue to work because longer work hours and increased ops tempo spurred by the terrorist attacks continue. And there are other, more surprising sources of stress, Vieira said.

"(People) get stress from spouses, kids, bills and from balancing civilian life with military life," Vieira said. "When you go to war, a lot of that is taken care of, but here, you must balance a war-like ops tempo with what's going on at home."

Fortunately, Vieira said, it is a situation that most commanders are ready for.

"I believe the commanders are aware of this, and I think because of that, they have been judicious when an individual's plate is full and he needs time off," Vieira said. "When do you think your people have had too much? How do you rotate your crews? All these things are 'stressors.' If you max your people out for too long, they will break. This is the kind of education we provide to commanders."

Cotter said that while the CISM teams' assistance helped military members deal with the stress generated by the Sept. 11 attack, some of the credit belongs to the military members themselves.

"The resilience of the people here was enhanced by their generally high degree of motivation and their intelligence," Cotter said. "They are mentally healthy to begin with, so getting back to normal has simply been a matter of education about stress, with a little counseling added in for good measure."