Last Updated: July 3rd, 2024By

Cadet Aaliyah Buford, 6th Regiment, Advanced Camp, from East Carolina University, is just beginning her time at Cadet Summer Training. She remains steadfast on her goals and ready for challenges. 

“Something I want to learn about myself is how resilient I can be because at CST, there’s going to be a lot of stress factors put into place,” Buford said. “I’m going to see how much I can overcome.” 

Her resilience is a testament to her future career. Buford hopes to become a clinical psychologist for the army, as she recognizes the challenges around mental health support. 

“There’s a big stigma around behavioral health officers just wanting to kick you out of the army,” Buford said. “I think we should shift our focus. I want to be able to help the Soldiers.”

According to the National Institute of Health, over 41% of veterans were found to have a potential need for mental health care. Among service members, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and substance abuse are the most common mental health disorders. 

The Military Health System is implementing targeted care, with the goal of providing appropriate support to meet the needs of each individual. The targeted care program aims to improve the current system by increasing readiness, reducing wait times and providing focused treatments with earlier intervention. The goal is to have targeted care MHS-wide by the end of 2024. 

Buford’s motivation to become a behavioral health officer stems from her parents, both of whom were in the military. Her dad worked in special forces and Buford witnessed the toll it took on him and their family as a whole. As the oldest sibling, Buford commends her parents for the bravery displayed for her and her siblings. But, she picked up on the struggles they faced. 

Instead of shying away from the challenges that faced her and her family, Buford tackles them head-on. 

“I grew up around the military environment,” Buford said. “I can see them and their friends and I grew up very empathetic.” 

Buford, a Simultaneous Membership Program Cadet, saw similar themes of mental health challenges when attending basic training for the North Carolina National Guard. Thus, solidifying her goals of becoming a clinical psychologist.

With an increasing number of mental health related cases growing among service members, new legislation has been created to provide better care for Soldiers. 

The Brandon Act, implemented in May of 2023, aims to improve the process for service members to seek mental health support. This law creates a self-initiated referral process for Soldiers and allows them to seek help confidentially. The first phase of implementation targets active service members. In phase two, the policy is expanded for all service members. Named after U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Caserta who died by suicide, it furthers the goals of the Department of Defense of increasing access to mental health resources. 

But for Buford, the field of mental health care is ever-changing.

“I want to be the change for someone, whether that’s one person or a big group of people,” Buford said. “I want to help change the army’s mental health stigma in any way I can.”  

About the Author: Kendall Kelly