As Senior Vice President of Military and Veterans Health Solutions for Leidos, Debbie Opiekun oversees the company’s broad range of programs supporting the health, wellness, and performance of Service Members, their families, and Veterans. FedHealthIT’s President, Susan Sharer, recently spoke with Ms. Opiekun about Leidos programs that address resilience, human performance, and behavioral health, among other efforts.

What does it Mean to Improve Resilience?

Resilience usually refers to the ability of individuals to recover quickly from difficulties and bounce back from adversity, injury, or the stress associated with daily life. In the context of Military personnel, resilience ties into their ability to perform their roles at a high level even in the face of challenges, setbacks, and stressors. It’s important to take a holistic view of resilience and help Military personnel be at their peak, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.

When we focus on mental health, we also consider the social determinants of health. These factors include food safety, the home environment, financial stability, and other elements that affect a person’s overall well-being. Positive mental health also involves the health and stability of an individual’s family, including parents, siblings, and children, any of whom may need support so that the service member may focus on what they need to do.

How do you Approach Human Performance?  

We consider many different facets of human performance, including training, mission performance, and recovery from injury. We’ve conducted research into improving several specific problem areas, including traumatic brain injury, trusting prosthetics, and heat stroke. We look at how personnel who have had to leave their units because of injuries or other health problems can heal as fully and quickly as possible so that they can return to their units and perform their jobs without unnecessary risk or stress.

We also look at supporting Service Members as they transition from active duty, going beyond the traditional exit exam. Service Members deal with a lot during that first year of transition. There needs to be a more connected and structured transition that involves regular check-ins, attention to the social determinants of health, and a more holistic approach to overall health that includes mental health and well-being.

What’s the Role of the Electronic Health Record?

The focus of the electronic health record has traditionally been physical health, but that view is much too narrow. To create a more complete picture, it’s important to integrate records that have traditionally been maintained as separate documents, such as those that capture a Service Member’s financial situation and social environment. Of course, that kind of integration requires additional privacy and security safeguards. But it’s an important step toward taking care of the person as a whole and not just in terms of traditional health issues. A good way to start is with a checklist of questions to ensure that personnel have the wider range of financial, mental, and social support systems they need. This checklist results in a more complete risk profile that is critical to managing overall health.

Can Anything be Done to Eliminate the Stigma Around Mental Health Concerns? 

One of the big challenges with getting people who work in the Military or other Federal environments to consider accessing mental health support is that they fear it will leave some sort of blemish on their records, or even have a negative impact on their security clearance. This issue needs to be addressed so that people know they can ask for help without hurting their careers. Senior leaders who have received help, as many have, need to be willing to speak up about their own experiences. By letting others know that they were able to seek and receive mental health support that helped them, and still continued on in highly successful careers, they will make it much easier for others to take that important first step.

Has the Pandemic Affected any of Leidos’ Human Performance Efforts?

Although the pandemic has been challenging for all of us, one good thing that’s coming out of it is the increased adoption of telehealth. This shift is a big step forward for Healthcare and wellness, because it enables people to have sensitive conversations with care providers in the privacy of their homes. Many of those conversations wouldn’t have taken place at all without telehealth, or would have happened only after people dealt with the delays, costs, and inconvenience of arranging and going to office appointments. We’re working with the Defense Health Agency on a telehealth capability for the MHS GENESIS EHR system that we believe we can make available in the near future.

About Debbie Opiekun

Debbie Opiekun is the Senior Vice President, Military & Veterans Health Solutions for the Leidos Health Group. In this role, Ms. Opiekun has overall leadership, P&L, and management responsibilities for all Leidos business within the Defense Health
Agency (DHA), Bio Behavioral Research, the DHA MHS GENESIS program, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Previously Ms. Opiekun was the Leidos Health Group Deputy President and Chief Operating Officer where she was responsible for daily operations of the Health Group.

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