BREMERTON, Wash. (NNS) -- A Sailor from Naval Hospital Bremerton emphasized the importance of Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month celebrated in May.
Both observances have overlapped in the 12-year Navy career of Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Oscar Baldevia, bringing together his heritage with his healthcare ability.
From his hometown of Iloilo City, Republic of the Philippines, to the western Iraqi desert and the southern terrain of Helmand province, Afghanistan, Baldevia's duty as a behavioral health technician at Naval Hospital Bremerton has enabled him to continue the family tradition of service before self in the U.S. Navy.
"Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month observance is important for us all in increasing our cultural awareness," said Baldevia. "We get to share knowledge of our history and heritage. Our diversity is one of the strengths of our Navy and has helped make us who we are today. We're all unique and we all bring different capabilities and ability to handle our duties. Everyone contributes with their skills, talent, ideas and opinions."
The 2012 theme for Asian and Pacific American Heritage month was "Striving for Excellence in Leadership, Diversity and Inclusion" and focused on understanding and respecting the many contributions of Asian and Pacific Americans in the U.S. and in the Navy. Baldevia's extended family has long been part of that contributing legacy.
"The majority of my family has in some way either been in or worked for the Navy. I decided to join for the travel, experience, and especially the educational opportunities. I have achieved all three and then some," said Baldevia, who is currently working on his nursing degree. His ultimate goal is divided into either becoming a Navy chief or Navy nurse.
Baldevia, leading petty officer of NHB's Mental Health Department and Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program, helps administer the Navy's Automated Neurological Assessment Matrix (ANAM), a traumatic brain injury (TBI) baseline measure given to service members before deployment.
"A person can't deploy without having an ANAM. It's a mandatory pre-deployment requirement that establishes a TBI baseline," Baldevia said, noting that once deployed, if anyone gets any type of concussion, the original measure can then be checked to determine the possible severity of the injury that will then enable on-site medical personnel to provide the timely and necessary treatment.
Baldevia said designating May as Mental Health Awareness Month helps increase awareness about symptoms and treatments for various psychological health concerns and aids in reducing the stigma in seeking help.
Compiled statistics from the Department of Veterans Affairs show that 18 service members commit suicide every day, which equates to more than 6,500 per year. As of May 23, there have been 6,436 casualties in Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn as confirmed by U.S. Central Command.
Baldevia has been at the forefront in the front lines dealing with mental health issues and concerns. He was assigned to 1st Marine Division in Camp Fallujah and Camp Ramadi in Iraq (2007-08) and with the (Marines) 1st Medical Battalion in Helmand Province (2010-2011). He teamed with chaplains, religious program specialists, and psychologists concentrating on mental health awareness. One of the tools employed by Oscar was OSCAR - Operational Stress Control and Readiness - that concentrated on the prevention, identification, and treatment of adverse combat/operational stress reactions.
"We went from FOB (forwarding operating base) to FOB, talking with the independent duty corpsmen, medics, and senior leadership. We would share with the Sailors and Marines on the impact that mental health stress has during any deployment. Being mentally fit and recognizing stress is part of everyone's overall readiness. Only by addressing (mental health) with the resources we have can we continually identify, educate, enhance awareness and help those in need."
The nature of Baldevia's job taking him from one forward operating base to another to help others deal with stress was stressful in its own way. There were continual occupational hazards of being in the midst of a war zone including roadside bombs, unexploded ordnance, small arms fire and unpredictable travel and weather conditions.
"There were always dangers when we traveled. But we knew our mission and were prepared every time we went 'outside the wire.' At every FOB we went to, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, we were always well received by leadership. They were glad to have us come to them. Even if we were just hanging out in some common area like the gym or chow hall and having an informal conversation, we could share about mental health, how to look out for each other and identify signs of stress," Baldevia said.
According to Baldevia, the challenge for him as a behavioral health technician was getting through the 'warrior mentality' and breaking down that stigma attached to mental health.
"The prevailing thinking used to be among a lot of deployers that if someone seeks help, that will negatively impact their career or be looked upon as having a weakness. By continually conducting outreach programs from FOB to FOB, we showed that mental health is just as important as physical health. It isn't a sign of weakness. It's a sign of being responsible and a sign of understanding the readiness issue. If a Sailor or Marine isn't 100 percent physically or mentally healthy, they could put themselves and others in harm's way," said Baldevia.
Baldevia was also the leading petty officer of the first Concussion Restoration Care Center (CRCC) at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province to diagnose TBI and treat concussions. In the CRCC first year (August 2010 to September 2011), the clinic saw more than 700 new concussion patients.
"Concussions are the number one most common combat related injury" said Cmdr. Peter Lundblad, officer in charge of the CRCC on Camp Leatherneck, co-located with British-run Camp Bastion and NHB Family and Sports Medicine physician, and Monticello, Minn. native.
"Being able to treat any potential TBI and concussion in a timely manner is vital. Any such injury can potentially impact common functions as cognitive thinking, memory and even possibly cause depression. We were always very busy. We not only had our troops, but we also handled NATO forces," Baldevia said.
The month of May culminated for Baldevia and his family at NHB's Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month celebration. But his duty as a behavioral health technician will continue long after the month is over.
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