News: OSCAR offers help
Story by Christine Cabalo
MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII - The diagnosis is good for infantry Marines searching for mental health care.
Operational Stress Control and Readiness is a Marine Corps program offering direct help for mental health through unit training and on-staff medical professionals. Members of 3rd Marine Regiment can readily speak with an embedded psychologist and psychiatrist who work less than half a mile from their unit’s headquarters.
“Regardless of where they deploy, Marines and sailors still see very similar stresses,” said Lt. Cmdr. Chris Blair, an OSCAR psychologist with 3rd Marines. “Whether they are on the job in the unit deployment program, in combat or on a ship deployment, there are stressors.”
Blair has a doctorate degree in psychology and offers counseling, like civilian professionals in his field. He also knows the ropes of working in 3rd Marines and can meet with patients in his office at Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
The infantry Marines can also make an appointment to see Lt. Cmdr. Brian Kleyensteuber, the OSCAR psychiatrist for the regiment.
Kleyensteuber prescribes medicine to manage mental disorders and offers acupuncture at his shared clinic space with Blair.
“For Kaneohe Bay, we’re very unique because we’re able to take a lot of clinical patients without always sending them to another hospital,” Kleyensteuber said.
Between the pair, Blair and Kleyensteuber handled more than 1,200 appointments with base personnel who needed help in 2012.
They credit support from 3rd Marine Regiment leaders and others in the unit for guiding those who need help to their office doorstep.
In 2011, a Marine Administrative Message encouraged battalion-sized units to train and maintain a team of 20 people or 5 percent of the unit, whichever amount is larger, in the OSCAR program. Marines who trained in OSCAR aboard MCB Hawaii, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. and other installations learned about when to seek help from OSCAR medical professionals or OSCAR extenders, like chaplains, who can provide non-medical aid.
Senior leaders and junior staff of 3rd Marines have trained as OSCAR mentors who can recognize and defuse stress in their unit. Both Blair and Kleyensteuber said they want to get more people trained, especially since mentors are usually the first to notice stress taking a toll on their colleagues.
“Awareness and early preventive measures are needed,” said Cmdr. Ruchira Densert, the department head of the Mental Health Clinic for Naval Health Clinic Hawaii. “It is critical to teach the junior and immediate leadership in how to identify when a Marine is in distress and make early interventions for the most common stressors such as relationship problems, financial trouble, legal or administration issues and family concerns.”
This type of training is critical for Marines at any time, Densert said. In 2010 she was the division psychiatrist for the 1st Marine Division and deployed with some of the units who taught OSCAR training.
“Marines seeking mental health after the deployment mentioned that they felt more comfortable seeking treatment compared to before because they were being supported by their junior and senior leaders,” Densert said.
Ensuring OSCAR awareness is also critical in between deployments, Blair said, especially for those stationed in Hawaii and other Marine installations not located on the continental U.S.
“The unique factor of Hawaii is we’re not in another country, but Marines and sailors are far away from family and friends,” he said. “They can’t necessarily call or visit them by taking a road trip on a long weekend. You can get fairly isolated from your support system.”
The two recommend that if anyone thinks they need mental health help to seek assistance immediately. Without assistance, these mental stress injuries can result in more severe symptoms.
“The sooner there is an intervention, the better the outcome can be,” Kleyensteuber said. “It’s harder to get better later, and people shouldn’t wait until the end of the Marine Corps careers to find help.”
Kleyensteuber and Blair said they already see three to four times as many people as other regimental doctors, but said they are still available to see even more.
When problems of stress and other mental health impact a Marine’s mind, it does matter.