The United States Air Force recently updated its policy on mental health. USAF Air Mobility Command (AMC) leader Gen. Mike Minihan announced plans to eliminate stigma, increase access, and add options to support Air Force personnel.

Among the concrete moves, the Air Force’s Medical Standards Directory and Aerospace Medicine Waiver Guide has been modified to enable airmen to receive 60 days of treatment for mental health issues without the requirement for a return to duty waiver in order to fly. The change benefits personnel throughout the service in accessing treatment for stress, post-traumatic stress, and other mental-health-related conditions. Before the change, receiving treatment for mental health issues meant significant time on non-flying status while facing evaluation, treatment and mandatory “stabilization periods” before being eligible to submit a waiver to return to duty. Airmen were disincentivized to seek treatment because the delays could negatively affect their careers, delaying upgrades, postponing formal training, and interfering with eligibility for career development programs and other opportunities for advancement.

The AMC also established its Warrior Mental Health working group, with a mandate to establish pathways to care, strengthen command teams and, where deemed necessary, advocate for updates to mental health policies based on the most current medical standards. The working group lead, C-130J Super Hercules pilot Maj. Jane Marlow, came to the group largely due to her own personal experience with treatment.

She said, “Like so many of my peers, I delayed seeking care until I was in a non-flying assignment because I knew that, as a pilot, the moment I picked up the phone to schedule that appointment, I would be grounded for an indefinite period. The trauma care I went through was life-changing. I knew that I was, without a doubt, a safer pilot, a better leader, and a stronger wingman because of the care I received. Yet I was still required to spend months in a non-flying status because of my diagnosis.” According to the Air Force, the Warrior Mental Health working group consists of more than 50 aircrew members, 12 aviation psychologists, a pilot physician, flight surgeons across the Joint Force, and a specialized doctor from NASA.

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