Liberty-OVE Founder: Repercussions Fear He Got Help

Liberty-OVE Founder: Repercussions Fear He Got Help


VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — A spate of USS George Washington-related suicides over the past two years has forced a focus on mental health services within the Navy — with congressional leaders advocating for psychological health directors at each Navy and Marine Corps installation and the Navy investigate conditions aboard Hampton Roads-based ships.

But a mental health organization focused on service members in Virginia Beach says the disconnect between service members and suicide prevention programs is not that Hampton Roads military bands lack mental health resources. Rather, it is a perceived fear of repercussions if service members take the time necessary to seek mental health care.

“A service member should never feel like there will be career repercussions if they seek mental health services,” said Michael Murray II, founder of Liberty-OVE.

But Murray said he’s seen service members dither in making mental health appointments in the name of the “mission.”

“If I have a wrench or a computer guy and they’re gone, it hurts,” Murray said. “We say silly things like ‘God, country, family, body’ or ‘No one gets left behind’ – until a service member misses work due to medical appointments.”

Murray served in the Marines as an infantry officer for 19 years, deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq, before retiring in 2014 due to injuries while serving. After retiring, Murray founded the Liberty Organization for Veterans and Emergency Responders, a nonprofit that provides post-traumatic stress treatment to active duty members, veterans, and first responders.

The National Alliance for Mental Health reported that 8.4% of active duty service members were diagnosed with a behavioral health disorder in 2019. But according to a 2018 study published by the Defense Health Agency, 60-70% of service members with mental health symptoms do not. seek professional help. The main obstacles include the fear of being perceived as weak and of harming one’s career.

When service members are absent for psychiatric or medical appointments, Murray said the details of that absence are often widely disclosed, reaching beyond immediate supervisors, for accountability purposes. Service members can choose to reject mental health resources if they are concerned that information about their personal situation will be shared with their peers, he said.

“Patient privacy is gone,” Murray said. “For example, nobody needs to know if I have a problem with my wife and if it’s related to post-traumatic stress or alcoholism or something else.”

Murray said government leaders and mental health advocates should focus on policies that protect service members as patients. Greater confidentiality could reduce the stigma associated with seeking mental health services.

Representatives Bobby Scott and Elaine Luria recently wrote a letter urging Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro to “promptly appoint” directors of psychological health at every Navy and Marine Corps installation, a position they say , should have been filled years ago.

The letter followed six suicides in the past two years linked to the USS George Washington, which is undergoing a multi-year refueling and overhaul at Newport News Shipbuilding. Prior to that, five crew members of the USS George HW Bush committed suicide in 2019 during a three-month period while the ship was at the Norfolk Naval Dockyard.

Scott Hendrick, chief operating officer of Liberty-OVE, said the appointment of a director of psychological health does not solve a bigger problem – it takes an active duty member about six weeks to get an appointment with a mental health professional. This wait time can be detrimental to someone seeking immediate help, or appointments taken too far away may not match scheduled deployments.

“(Mental health resources) are backed up, contracted out and overworked, just like most military personnel serving today,” said Hendrick, who retired after a 26-year career in the Air Force. as Chief Staff Sergeant.

The pandemic has exacerbated the time it takes active duty service members to seek mental health services, as the Department of Defense is “extremely slow to adapt to respond to these dynamic issues,” Hendrick said. While civilian mental health services have seen a shift to telehealth video appointments, Hendricks said MoD-run mental health services have effectively been shut down, with critical appointments canceled or postponed. until it is clear to return safely to the workplace.

“Something has to give and sadly members are losing faith in the institution they signed an unlimited liability contract for,” Hendrick said.

Following the suicides, the Navy offered to move 260 sailors from the USS George Washington while the carrier undergoes an overhaul, placing them in on-base living quarters. The Navy also staffed the medical team in Washington with an additional clinical psychologist and mental health clinician and provided expedited appointment for mental health referrals to sailors attached to the stationary warship.

Lawmakers also called for more attention to the quality of life for service members at Hampton Roads military facilities.

But Murray and Hendrick say the government doesn’t use local nonprofits, including their own. The Liberty-OVE treatment model addresses post-traumatic stress through a series of questions designed to disconnect service member trauma from negative emotions – a treatment that has been dubbed the “trauma recovery intervention protocol” or TRIP.

This protocol is often led by the clinical director of the organization, but is designed to be executed from the peer support level, which would allow a service member to effectively assist other service members.

Murray said the organization’s goal is to partner with the Department of Defense to train mental health professionals on how to conduct its trauma recovery intervention protocol in training sessions. therapy with service members. But the group is struggling to secure a contract, and Murray said some DOD policies make it difficult to connect with local service members.

Although Liberty-OVE is listed on the Department of Defense’s Community Resources website, the group has been advised that it is not authorized to distribute advertising flyers at military bases in the area, including the base. Little Creek-Fort Story Joint Expeditionary, as it may show preferential treatment.

A spokesperson for Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story did not immediately return a request for comment on the policy.

Hendrick said that in his view, the DOD is “starting with no” rather than working with other agencies and organizations to improve service members’ access to mental health resources.

“Bureaucracy is figuratively and literally harming our nation’s most precious resource, our military and our veterans,” he said.

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