Working As An Army Occupational Therapist

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I had the pleasure of interviewing Jenna Babcock, who has the unique experience working as an occupational therapist for the army.

She provides valuable insight on topics including how you can become a therapist for the army, how this may positively impact your student loans, and what she’s being doing for work after finishing her time with the army.

If you are an occupational therapist or physical therapist interested in working for the army, be sure to give this a read!

Question: Thanks for agreeing to share your story with the Money Mobilizer Community! Can you tell our readers a little about yourself?

Hi everyone! My name is Jenna. I’m an occupational therapist for the Veteran’s Administration (VA) and I work in the Home-Based Primary Care (HBPC) program. Before the VA, I was active duty with the army as an OT and worked in outpatient setting. I worked primarily with upper extremity acute/chronic injuries that impacted MSK and the brachial plexus.  

Question: What was your path to becoming an occupational therapist?

I grew up playing soccer, so I have had many injuries and rehab visits. I joined the Army Reserve while I was in undergrad and had some other injuries to recover from. Also, I witnessed many other injuries my friends/coworkers sustained during their time in the Army as well. During this time, I was looking into becoming a PT/OT and my uncle was a certified occupational therapist assistant (COTA) in the Army many years ago. He encouraged me to look into OT specifically and thought it would be the best fit.  

Question: Where did you work after you completed OT school?

I worked in various settings in the civilian sector, such as, inpatient rehab, acute, and outpatient pediatrics. While in OT school, my ultimate goal was to become an Army OT, so I began to research what requirements were needed and worked in various settings to obtain more experience. I graduated with a MS in OT and had to apply through an army healthcare recruiter in order to become an army OT. The process has changed recently due to the OT schools moving to doctorate level (three years). 

The army has developed their own doctorate level program. If anyone is interested in becoming an army OT, they will apply for the army’s OT program through Baylor University at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

After graduating from the army’s program, you will have to serve a specific number of years as an army OT. If accepted to the army’s OT program, you will not have any student loans as opposed to a civilian OT school.

Question: What are some differences between civilian OT and army OT?

As a civilian OT, you are working for insurance companies and government funded programs, such as Medicare/Medicaid. Each setting has their own rules/procedures for documentation and work schedules. As a civilian OT, you treat patients according to an MD’s orders and cannot order imaging or any other consults.

As an army OT, you are considered a provider and have the ability to order imaging (X-rays, MRIs, CT etc). In the army setting, you will typically work in an outpatient setting in either UE injuries or a behavioral health (BH) setting.

The army has moved to the Holistic to Health (H2F) program. The army OT role is primarily focused on BH and imbedded within a unit with a team of interdisciplinary members from dietician, PT, PA, athletic trainer, psychologist. This is all outlined in the new Field Manual (FM 7-22).

In the army reserve however, you will most likely be assigned to a Combat Operational Stress Control (COSC) unit and primarily work in the BH setting with other providers, such as, social workers, psychologists/psychiatrists, BH Nurse Practitioners. As an OT, you will be helping soldiers restore and recover from stressors and ultimately help them return to their jobs and occupations. 

In order to join army reserve, however, you need to have your degree in OT already and it is known as direct commission in the army reserve. If you have student debt from a civilian school and are interested in having the army pay off some of your debt, army reserve may be the best option. Keep in mind, however, you will “owe” the army years of service as well. If you are interested, find an army healthcare recruiter.

Question: How is the VA’s HBPC program different from civilian Home Health (HH) setting?

The VA’s HBPC program was created for Veteran’s who are unable to leave, or it is very difficult to get out of, their home for VA medical appointments. This is due to a physical/mental disability, Veteran cannot drive anymore, and it is a taxing effort for caregivers. 

The HBPC consists of a PCP (Primary care provider), Nurse case manager (RN), Social Worker, Dietician, Psychologist, Pharmacist, Therapist (OT/PT/KT). Each team member will visit Veterans in their homes and provide care. As an OT, I make sure they are safe in their home for their ADLs/IADLs and evaluate their home environment for safety hazards that could cause a fall. I recommend necessary DME for their home and provide adaptations to the home if needed. If a veteran requires more assistance with ADLs, they will receive care from civilian providers, such as, home health aides (HHA). The veteran will be in the HBPC program for the rest of their lives or if they decide to leave the program.

Question: What areas are you interested in learning more about since you have been working for the VA?

The Veterans I have the honor of serving are older and would like to be as independent as possible in their own home. Many of the veterans have vision loss and they receive assistance through the VA’s Blind Rehab Program. Once they are home, however, they require some modifications for ADLs/IADLs and assistive technology. In order to provide them the best care possible, I would like to obtain CEU’s in low vision and adaptive devices to assist them.

Question: Thanks so much for your time. I’m sure your insight has helped many occupational therapists and physical therapists interested in working for the army.

You’re welcome!

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