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NEWS | June 5, 2023

Chief of behavioral health looks to make impact on Virginia Guard Soldiers

By A.J. Coyne | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

Maj. Stephanie Malozzi recently assumed the position of chief of behavioral health for the Fort Barfoot-based Virginia Army National Guard Medical Command.
“Maj. Malozzi is a consummate professional and is passionate about serving the Soldiers of the Virginia Army National Guard,” said Jonathan Goldwire, VAARNG director of psychological health. “The experience she brings, being a military spouse, a provider within the VA system, and a combat veteran makes her uniquely qualified to relate to and meet the needs of our Soldiers.”
Malozzi is a licensed clinical psychologist who works for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs in her civilian career. As a PTSD/Substance Use Disorder Psychologist for the VA she provides clinical diagnostic assessments, treatment planning and psychotherapy services to veterans, as well as supervision to other early career psychologists or trainees.
“However, I also evaluate and treat veterans for other concerns often within the realm of issues with mood, sleep, pain, etc.,” she explained. “Having worked in this setting for years, it does lead me to know the importance of the care we can offer to our current Soldiers. I believe strongly in teaching Soldiers how to take care of their mental health now.”
“This does not mean that everything has to be treated like it is a clinical case with a lifelong diagnosis,” she continued. “Most often in the Guard we use informal trainings, offering support and connection to resources as a means to curtail bigger issues from developing or going unaddressed.”
In her civilian role, she sees firsthand the results of issues that have gone awry and the impact the lack of behavioral health care has had on generations of Soldiers and those close to them.
“I'm working with the resources we have to close up these gaps in care and improve our documentation practices for those that do or are likely to require more formal treatment,” she explained. “Knowing what paths and hurdles our Soldiers may face both now and in the future is always a factor I consider no matter what role I am in.”
As a traditional National Guard Soldier with a civilian career, as well as her years as a military spouse, she brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the position.
“I absolutely can identify with Soldiers juggling their Army career, as well as their civilian lives,” Malozzi said. “Just like most of our Soldiers, I work full-time outside of my M-Day duties and still need to prioritize important relationships and health too. It is helpful to be mindful of values, goals and priorities we have both in the short and long-term sense.”
For Malozzi, doing this helps to organize her schedule and communicate clear limits or ask for help from others ahead of time when needed. 
“If you've ever sat in on a training meeting you're likely familiar with the 30/60/90 planning model,” she said. “I apply this to my own life by planning out what needs to happen within days, months, and even a few years out.  I think for myself and most of our Soldiers, having the support of family or friends is extra important because we are so limited on time given the demands of upholding multiple career paths at the same time.”
Originally from New York state, Malozzi moved many times as a result of her husband’s active duty military career. When he deployed to Iraq in 2011 Malozzi faced the same stressors and burdens as many other family members of deployed servicemembers.
“As the spouse of a deployed Soldier on a combat tour, I found it difficult to balance staying connected, figure out the military culture, which was new to me at the time, and maintain my own routines,” she said. “Some of the stressors on Soldiers and their loved ones were very much the same as they are today. It's hard to have a flourishing relationship, run a home, and feel included in important events while thousands of miles apart. I think it helped a lot to build relationships with other spouses and keep a schedule that balanced staying busy with taking good care of my mental and physical health.”
Malozzi joined the Virginia Army National Guard in 2020 and she deployed with Task Force Red Dragon to the Horn of Africa in 2022.
It was her first deployment and it provided her an up-close look at the personal issues Soldiers face while deployed.
“From my foxhole as a psychologist, I saw the main stressors among troops typically centering around relationship and communication issues,” she explained. “Ramping up to deployment and then adjusting to life apart can be difficult even for those of us who are in fields like mine that are well versed in coping skills.”
Malozzi said that completing a deployment both expanded and deepened her awareness of what our Soldiers go through.
“While my role as a psychologist means I have very different day-to-day duties compared to most Soldiers, there are many shared experiences having been through a deployment both in uniform and as a spouse,” she said. “I do not think I have changed much about how I do treatment since returning from deployment, but I am working on fine tuning our pre-deployment screenings to ensure the needs of our Soldiers are met and those that are going on deployments likely to be able to maintain their mental well-being throughout the duration of deployment.”
Since returning from the deployment, Malozzi has noticed a significant difference in how Soldiers relate to her as a provider.
“Many have expressed an increased sense of trust and willingness to engage in care because of having a provider that ‘has been there too,’” she said.  
Malozzi explained that what she went through as a spouse during her deployment skewed her expectations going into her own deployment.
Her husband deployed almost immediately after they were married and they did not have children at the time.
“It's fair to say our boots on ground experiences were incredibly different,” she explained. “We served in two very different combat zones, FOBs, periods in history, and job duties. Nevertheless, it prepared us to know that communication and adjustments for those at home and those far away would take some time to work through.” 
By the time she deployed, they had been married for more than a decade and had each established their careers.
“I'd like to think we've mostly figured out parenting too,” she said.  
But it’s not only the deployment that is stressful to the Soldiers and their families. Coming back home can be just as challenging.
“It can take months or longer to mentally and physically readjust all while figuring out new routines,” she said. “One unique thing about our National Guard Soldiers is that most have other occupations outside of the military. When returning home, many had to plan for changes in employment or even go from their daily deployment routine to being back in a college environment if they returned to school.”  
As chief of behavioral health for MEDCOM, some of Malozzi’s 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.
“Maj. Malozzi is the only licensed psychologist in the Virginia Guard,” Goldwire explained. “The rest of the behavioral health officers are social workers, so she is able to bring diversity of perspective and practice when providing treatment and education.”
“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.”
Malozzi said the Virginia Army National Guard is fortunate to have some highly experienced uniformed behavioral health team members at MEDCOM and the Charlottesville-based Charlie Company, 429th Brigade Support Battalion.  
“All of our providers and behavioral health techs have personal and/or professional connections with the military outside of our own service,” she explained. “Having these experiences help us to better understand what our Soldiers and their families may need in terms of our support. Nearly every member of our team has deployed at least once or more. Being able to work based on these combined experiences helps us to collaborate as a team and to have important conversations with soldiers as well as all levels of command.”
One of their goals, she explained, is to improve the level of mental readiness within the Virginia Army National Guard and retain Soldiers. 
“One example of this is the opportunity I had to work as a team with one of our social workers and two behavioral health techs on a recent deployment,” she said. “The positive feedback and utilization of our services was overwhelming in a great way. It was an opportunity for Soldiers and command to become more familiar with how behavioral health can support them. Whether they were struggling with something or aiming to maximize their performance by sharpening mental skills it was a meaningful shift towards breaking down old stigmas around mental health.”
Malozzi would like Soldiers to know there is no wrong door to start with when it comes to seeking out behavioral health support. Part of their jobs is to make sure Soldiers get connected to what they need, but the most important thing is to start somewhere. 
“Sometimes Soldiers come to us directly, through medical readiness events, command directed, encouraged by family or a friend, or even other providers like our physician assistants might pick up on a concern,” she said. “Currently, all of our uniformed behavioral health providers are M-Day, but we work closely with our full-time Director of Psychological Health's team.”
That team has three full-time social workers who are able to provide remote services and other duties by request.
“I strongly encourage Soldiers to build relationships with one another and get to know their command teams as well,” she said. “Save information and contact information in your phone and somewhere else secure every time you attend trainings. You never know when you or someone else might need it.
According to Malozzi, many Soldiers do not know what to expect or have various fears about engaging with behavioral health. 
“The two biggest fears I hear are worries about how it could impact their career and how they may be treated if others find out they are seeking support,” she explained. “To those concerns, I would say that the vast majority of the time seeking support has no negative impact on one's career. In fact, the opposite is more often true- getting help improves their career and many other parts of life.”
Malozzi explained there are different documentation regulations in the military and in specific circumstances that are different than the civilian sector. Simply talking to a behavioral health professional does not automatically mean there starts a string of documentation and diagnoses.
“The most important thing is to get the care needed,” she emphasized. “More senior leaders are speaking up about their own difficulties and experiences after having sought assistance. All of us go through periods in life that we could benefit from some support. Taking care of our needs as they come up usually prevent bigger issues from developing down the road. I think the stigma around getting assistance is dissolving as time goes by and there is more transparency from leadership.”
Malozzi explained that suicide prevention and intervention is a 24/7/365 task for everyone. A variety of information and resources is available to both full time and M-Day Soldiers.
The R3SP team maintains an SharePoint page Risk Reduction, Resilience and Suicide Prevention Section (R3SP) ( with contact information and way to order resources.
“I think every Soldier should have a copy of the blue Resilience Resource Book and other products available to order for free on that site,” she said. “Our behavioral health teams, DPH, chaplains, and those in command are also all trained in suicide and other risk management. In addition to our state's resources, the Veteran's Crisis Line offers 24/7/365 support by phone, text, or online chat. They updated their number to call is 988 then press 1, or text 838255. 
Malozzi also wants Soldiers to be aware of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office Sharepoint page - NGVA SAP - Home (
“We tend to focus on behavioral health when things are not going so well, but our team is here for the periods in life when things are going ok too,” she said. “Some other assets I recommend using in our state are part of our H2F team. This team has experts to support the whole health of our soldiers- physical, mental, nutritional, spiritual, and sleep. Using everything available to us can help those that are struggling become better, those who are doing ok maintain or improve, and push those that are a step above to become truly exceptional not just in their duties through the Guard, but in other parts of life.” 

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