RICHMOND, Va. –
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, an opportunity to remind Soldiers and civilians the Virginia Army National Guard behavioral health program is ready to provide mental health support to service members not only this month, but throughout the year.
Mental Health Awareness Month strives to reduce the stigma that surrounds mental illnesses.
Over the last several years the Virginia Army National Guard established a behavioral health program to promote the psychological health and fitness of Soldiers and to support mission readiness of the VAARNG.
Under the supervision of Jonathan Goldwire, VAARNG director of psychological health, this program works closely with the behavioral health “Team in Green” to provide annual readiness screenings, psychoeducation and preventative support and consultative services with command teams both stateside and overseas during periods of mobilizations.
Some of the most common presenting concerns Soldiers and commanders in Virginia reach out for assistance with include relationship distress, problems with communication, stress management, grief/losses, and adjusting to other major life changes such as those faced around training and deployment cycles, according to Maj. Stephanie Malozzi, chief of behavioral health for the Fort Barfoot-based Virginia Army National Guard Medical Command.
These types of stressors can negatively impact duty performance, safety, and mission capabilities while taking a toll on the Soldiers themselves and their families. The director of psychological health and behavioral health team members all offer the ability to provide brief assessments and connect Soldiers to the appropriate levels of support.
Statistics indicate 60% of military members with mental health needs report stigma related concerns as the primary rationale for not actively pursuing treatment, according to Malozzi.
However, rarely does this lead to duty-limiting periods, she said. In fact, most of the time Soldiers are able to get the support they need while continuing to perform their duties and it leads to increased sense of support or cooperation with the Soldier’s command.
Behavioral health officers can also provide services such as command-directed mental health evaluations, profiles, waivers, letters of stability, security clearance issues, and offer recommendations to unit command teams.
Examples of other resources the teams may tap into include collaborating with chaplains, other medical providers, the Holistic Health and Fitness Team, the Soldier and Family Readiness Program, Virginia Veteran and Family Support, Suicide Prevention and Sexual Assault Prevention teams.
“Each team works together to emphasize the importance of educating and providing resources to those in need while continuing to reduce stigma around seeking mental health support,” Malozzi said. “Soldiers are learning to take better care of themselves and in return are more ready, more resilient, and able to tackle a variety of challenges throughout their lifespans.”
In observance of Mental Health Awareness Month, the VAARNG is highlighting the staff and services available to them.
There are three individual psychological health coordinators assigned to each unit across the state. Reneé Hannah serves as the lead psychological health coordinator. A licensed clinical social worker, Hannah is assigned to the 329th Regional Support Command, Joint Force Headquarters and Recruiting and Retention Battalion.
“You are not your mental illness,” Hannah says. “Your diagnosis, your condition, in no way should define who you are.”
Ruth Ilboudo, a licensed clinical social worker, is assigned to Headquarters Battalion, 29th Infantry Division; 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation; and 91st Cyber Brigade.
Ilboudo’s mental health philosophy is, “There is hope through experiencing life challenges… believe that your situation will work out for your good.”
Marie Kennedy, a licensed master social worker, covers 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team; Fort Barfoot; 183rd Regional Training Institute; Medical Command; and 34th Civil Support Team.
“Mental health is like taking care of your physical health or your car,” Kennedy said. “It requires regularly maintenance and check-ins.”
In addition to Hannah, Ilboudo and Kennedy, there are four behavioral health officers and three behavioral health technicians currently serving in the Virginia Army National Guard.
Malozzi is a licensed clinical psychologist and serves as the chief of behavioral health. Some of her goals include supporting prevention and response programs for suicide and sexual assault, increasing the ease of access to behavioral health support, improved communication with command teams to include greater awareness of services the teams provide, and improving the pre- and post-deployment screening and readjustment processes Soldiers complete.
“When it comes to mental health care, there is no one size fits all approach that is effective,” Malozzi said. “I believe the best leaders and clinicians take the time to get to know those they work with, listen to what matters most to them and collaboratively create plans that support each person in the environments they are in.”
Maj. Wayne Marrs, a licensed clinical social worker with extensive experience working with Soldiers and veterans, is assigned to the Charlottesville-based Charlie Company, 429th Brigade Support Battalion. He is currently on an assignment in Korea.
Capt. Alisia Davis is also assigned to Charlie Company, 429th BSB. She is a board certified licensed clinical social worker and certified trauma specialist.
“One chapter does not tell the whole story,” Davis said of her mental health philosophy. “Life happens, you don’t have to figure it out on your own.”
First Lt. James Parker, assigned to Medical Command, is a licensed clinical social worker. In addition to his role as a behavioral health officer supporting service members in the VAARNG, he works full time as a clinical therapist in palliative care helping patients and families cope with life limiting illnesses.
“How we view ourselves directly impacts our ability to change,” Parker said of his mental health philosophy.
Staff Sgt. Ronnie Howard is the behavioral health noncommissioned officer in charge at Medical Command.
Howard’s mental health philosophy is a quote from Bessel Van Der Kolk in “The Body Keeps the Score” - “We have learned that trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body.”
Sgt. Cristen Hubbard, assigned to Charlie Co., 429th BSB, is a behavioral health technician NCO. In addition to her role as behavioral health technician, she works full time as the medical records room NCOIC for the Virginia Army National Guard.
“You can’t pour from an empty pitcher, take care of yourself,” she said is her mental health philosophy.
Finally, Spc. Ian Gallaugher is a behavioral health technician assigned to Charlie Co., 429th BSB.
“I understand there are a lot of challenges in seeking help with professional services sometimes,” Gallaugher said. “Sometimes the best first step can be just talking to someone you already know and trust personally.”
Virginia Army National Guard’s Behavioral Health Team can be contacted the following ways:
Renee Hannah, LCSW
Lead Psychological Health Coordinator
Ruth Ilboudo, LCSW
Psychological Health Coordinator
Marie Kennedy, LMSW
Psychological Health Coordinator (Contractor)
In the event of a crisis for a 24/7 response please call the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.