Too frequently healthy Airmen will arrive on station and slowly allow stressors in their life to overwhelm them. How and why do we let this happen?
Col. Robert Riegel, 460th Space Wing vice commander, and helping agencies on Buckley Air Force Base came together, determined to find an answer. After researching, they concluded agencies offered isolated solutions for isolated problems and lacked a coherent approach to addressing interconnected stressors.
For example, if a recently divorced Airman in debt went to the Airman and Family Readiness center to make a budget, he received help building a budget. While the budget is helpful the stressors causing his money issues were not addressed.
The Continuum of Care program aims to identify all stressors in an Airman's life and close those gaps.
“We found out the helping agencies didn’t know what each other did,” said Sandy Whitaker, 460th Space Wing violence prevention integrator. “They knew the basics; by learning what each agency offers, we are better able to recommend an Airman to receive additional assistance if needed.”
After deliberation, the helping agencies on base developed three matrices. The first, the Stressors and Helping Agencies Cross-reference Matrix, identifies a list of stressors and recommends appropriate agencies on base to help relieve them. The two additional matrices constructed show which stressors might be interconnected and identifies who is eligible for services from each helping agency.
Each matrix has information on every helping agency on base as well as their contact information.
“Every Airman who walks away with a matrix in their hand is an Airman who is armed to align himself or herself, or another Airman, with the information they may desperately need,” Riegel said. “They don’t have to share their stressors with their leadership to get information about resources. The matrix puts all the power in their hands.”
Once the program was established, Col. Riegel wanted to ensure there was data showing it worked. The helping agencies were given a quarterly goal to identify 585 stressors, or 195 per month. The point of this goal was to show how effective the matrix was at raising awareness and bringing Airmen in to get help. There was no data tracked on specific individuals, only the number of stressors identified.
During the first month of the program, the helping agencies identified 661 stressors, far exceeding the goal set for them. The trend continued for the next five months with an average of 709 stressors identified each month.
“This data shows we are identifying the root of people's problems,” Whitaker said. “We are closing the gaps and getting information from Airmen to recommend a different source, if needed, so we take care of them holistically.” In the past there has been a gap in communication between helping agencies, thus preventing Airmen from receiving the care they need.
“The whole point of the Continuum of Care program is to close those gaps and align Airmen with needed care. By addressing low-level stressors early, we hope to prevent higher-level stress or even self-harm later,” Riegel said. “If we’ve done that, we have met our goal.”