Innovative program helps warriors recover from addiction

Sept. 19, 2019

A new Substance Use Disorder Intensive Outpatient Program (SUD IOP) at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, TX, is providing unprecedented therapeutic care to active-duty service members, retirees, and their families. The SUD IOP is spearheaded by CDR Brooke Wallace, a Commissioned Corps officer and Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), who serves with the Air Force’s 59th Medical Wing under the DoD-USPHS Partnership for Psychological Health.

The SUD IOP, the first of its kind in the Air Force, celebrated its grand opening June 2, 2014 at the Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center. At full capacity from the start, the 10 patients with varying addictions each attend the program for four weeks: Monday through Thursday, for a total of 56 hours spent working together with peers and counselors on tough issues to prepare them for sober living.

Once the therapy group ends each day at noon, most participants return to work for the remainder of the day. However, service members can opt to have an individual session or follow-up time by way of treatment team meetings with their military leadership or with other behavioral health providers.

“We’re able to provide a level of care that would be a step down from someone needing detox or inpatient treatment and a step up from someone who would be appropriate in a once a week or twice a month outpatient setting,” says CDR Wallace, who has an extensive background in outpatient social work counseling and working with patients suffering from PTSD. “This program is designed to reduce inpatient hospitalizations or re-hospitalizations because we provide a structure that’s focused on recovery and conducive to symptom stabilization.”

Several program participants expressed their appreciation for the SUD IOP to CDR Wallace, explaining that inpatient treatment often places them in a “protective bubble” with a lack of exposure to their day-to-day stressors. While the inpatient environment promotes short-term success, CDR Wallace says that many patients tend to relapse shortly after they return to the outside world. As the new alternative, the SUD IOP allows patients to stay connected with life outside of therapy – the stressors of work and home life – while receiving treatment, allowing them to learn coping skills and apply them in their “real lives” immediately.

“We’re able to give patients contact in a more impactful, nurturing and nonjudgmental way and do a lot of prevention, education, mentoring, and aftercare,” says Commissioned Corps officer LT Kimberly Calvery, a LCSW who assisted CDR Wallace with launching the SUD IOP and who will lead future participants through the program. “Due to a shortage of mental health providers – including psychiatrists and counselors – in other clinics, many patients with high acuity levels are limited to receiving treatment once a week at best, twice a month as a standard sometimes.”

By treating service members “in-house”, the SUD IOP allows for a full continuum of treatment for beneficiaries across all levels of care. When patients come out of the SUD IOP, they are able to transition into the Alcohol & Drug Abuse Prevention & Treatment Program (ADAPT) – an Air Force governed supportive follow-on aftercare program. In ADAPT, patients attend individual or group appointments on a weekly or bi-weekly basis for approximately six to twelve months. Research by the DoD and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has shown that patients who receive this aftercare are only 20 percent likely to relapse whereas without this supportive outpatient counseling, a patient is about 80 percent likely to relapse.

“CDR Wallace and the rest of the staff put a lot of thought into what programming and best practices should be in place beyond what we are mandated or being asked to do within the Air Force instructions,” says LT Calvery. “We owe all of our service members so much so the least we can do is give them total care and give them access to care. Our doors never close to them.”

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