New psychological health director eager to help Airmen, families

  • Published
  • By Maj. Gabe Johnson
  • 161st Air Refueling Wing
Arizona Air National Guard members deploying to Southwest Asia, flying KC-135 Stratotanker missions around the world, and defending the homeland through various missions now have access to full-time mental health services should they need them.

In March, Mr. James Eddie Sr., a 15-year licensed clinical social worker, assumed his new role as the 161st Air Refueling Wing's director of psychological health at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. He is one of the Air National Guard's seasoned mental health professionals assigned to units across the country.

Military officials have recognized in recent years a steady increase in post-traumatic stress disorder, divorce and suicide among service members. As the only service component without military members in mental health professions, Air National Guard leaders announced in 2010 the creation of wing-level positions intended to address these serious trends.

In addition to mental health and non-medical support services, Eddie will work closely with military reintegration platforms, as well as suicide prevention and resiliency programs.

Prior to serving the State of Alabama and the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs as a social worker, he served 20 years as a logistics specialist in the active duty Air Force and the District of Columbia Air National Guard which, he said, helps him identify with the demands of military service.

"Guard members are not only in the military, they are also civilians. That transition back and forth, while adding deployments, can be very stressful for individuals," said Eddie. "I can help them with readjustment; teaching them the coping skills and strategies that bring them back to functional and healthy levels. It's a focus on identifying stressors and prevention."

Eddie's primary role is clinical case management and oversight. He can deliver and coordinate various psychological health services for wing members and their families to include brief counseling, crisis intervention, referrals to other psychological health professionals, alcohol abuse awareness, outreach, recovery programs and commander advisement.

"Most of the time, people just want someone who will listen," he said. "I encourage that, and I'm committed to breaking down any barriers that people may think are between them and the help I can offer."

According to a recent Air Force Community Assessment Survey, many Airmen still share a perception that mental health treatment could cause a loss in confidence in their abilities among fellow members. It's a perceived barrier that the military continues to overcome. Eddie conveys a positive message about this stigma as he visits Airmen in their work centers each day.

"It's amazing how their faces light up when I say to them that seeking help is not a sign of weakness," he said. "It's just the opposite. It's a sign of strength. I tell them to stop seeing these issues as problems, but rather to see them as opportunities to learn a new way to cope when they've exhausted their own resources."

Mental health services are covered by Tricare for active duty members, or civilian health insurance plans depending on the member's current status.

"Or if they don't have insurance, then I look for other available resources," he said.

"I do not just refer people to providers and then forget about them. I manage their case. I still follow them if they are seeing a therapist or marriage counselor. I remain involved until they are done with treatment. We don't leave anyone behind."

Eddie can be reached on base at (602) 302-9424. His office is open during the week, and on drill weekends, from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the 161st Medical Group.

"They can walk right in to Med Group and ask for me," said Eddie, "or just look for me when I'm making the rounds on base. I'm six-four with a white hat on. That's my trademark."