Officer Creates First Program of Its Kind for Military Families

June 26, 2014


LCDR Sarah Garrett

In October 2013, the Department of Defense (DoD) established the Defense Health Agency to forge a stronger and more integrated system of health services for active duty and retired military personnel and their families. Part of this reform includes the establishment of enhanced Multi-Service Markets, or eMSMs, that enable military services to combine their resources to deliver high-quality and cost-effective health care in six geographic “market” areas with significant military presence.

One of the six geographic areas is the Tidewater region of Virginia, where Commissioned Corps officer LCDR Sarah Garrett, a clinical social worker, is currently supporting the Tidewater eMSM as part of the DoD-USPHS Partnership for Psychological Health. She is leading the first behavioral health program specifically for military children and families under the eMSM at Fort Eustis in Newport News, Virginia.

LCDR Garrett treats patients for issues that range from ADHD to trauma abuse, bipolar disorders, and more. To increase care availability and treat more patients, LCDR Garrett recently started conducting cognitive behavioral groups. These cognitive groups serve children ages 7-16 who need help with anxiety or anger management. LCDR Garrett also discusses progress with patients and parents in individual sessions and works with parents on effective communication techniques to assist with the child’s behavioral issues. “The child might come in as the patient, but I work with the whole family; it’s a team effort,” says LCDR Garrett.

LCDR Garrett often plays an integral role in assisting families when service members return from combat deployments. “Reintegration is hard enough without an injury, but if a service member comes back with a brain injury or missing a limb or something that kids and spouses aren’t used to, we help facilitate the healing process and the transition back into family life,” says LCDR Garrett.

Embodying the eMSM’s integrated approach, LCDR Garrett’s program consists of Commissioned Corps and Navy providers treating family members from all services in an Army clinic. CDR James Reeves, a U.S. Navy officer and the Director for Mental Health at the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia comments that “combining the services and operating as a single entity is a very unique and forward-thinking way of providing care going into the future.”


CDR James Reeves

By consolidating the military’s mental health resources in the area, CDR Reeves, LCDR Garrett, and their behavioral health colleagues are better able to identify where the need is greatest and place providers accordingly. Prior to LCDR Garrett establishing the program at Fort Eustis, dependents in the area sought child therapy from civilian providers. “If they were getting therapy at all, they were being sent outside of the military health system which can be costly,” says LCDR Garrett.

The child therapy program at Fort Eustis is vital to executing the behavioral health track for the Tidewater eMSM and to setting a strong example for other eMSM programs. “This program directed by LCDR Garrett is leading the way in developing a new and efficient military system for taking care of kids and families,” says CDR Reeves. “This is something that has never been done before.”