Military's annual physicals now require mental health assessments
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By Melissa Nelson Gabriel, mnelsongab@pnj.com.  

Starting this month, all members of the U.S. military will undergo mental health assessments as part of routine annual physicals. 

The assessments, which were mandated by Congress in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, started Aug. 1. 

Jason Bortz, spokesman for Pensacola Naval Hospital, said the mental health assessments are now part of the standard physicals given at hospitals to area sailors and Marines.

Air Force Col. Brendan Noone, an Eglin Air Force Base physician, said the mental health assessments are also part of routine physicals given to all airmen. 

Noone said the assessment is completed online, with airmen answering a questionnaire.

"It is a fairly straightforward questionnaire, it should take less than 30 minutes," Noone said. 

Noone said the questions focus on issues like quality of sleep and interactions with other people. 

After completing the questionnaire, the airmen must do a phone interview with a mental health representative.

Any "red flag" issues are then referred to the airman's primary care physician, Noone said. 

Noone said the goal is to ensure airmen are ready to deploy and are capable of dealing with the stress that comes with deployment. 

"There is really nothing to be worried about. We have tried to make a change in the Air Force to let people know that seeking mental health help isn't going to affect your career," Noone said. 

He said the goal is to make sure airmen get help when they need it. 

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