DVIDS – News – I am Navy Medicine, and FY 2019 SARP Counselor of the Year: ABH1 Betancourt

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For her outstanding performance of duties – including implementing improvements and innovation – Aviation Boatswain Mate (Handler) 1st Class Rocio I. Betancourt was selected as the fiscal year 2019 Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program (SARP) Active Duty Counselor of the Year in Navy Medicine. Betancourt, a San Diego native and […]


For her outstanding performance of duties – including implementing improvements and innovation – Aviation Boatswain Mate (Handler) 1st Class Rocio I. Betancourt was selected as the fiscal year 2019 Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program (SARP) Active Duty Counselor of the Year in Navy Medicine.

Betancourt, a San Diego native and Herbert Hoover High School 2002 graduate, has been in the Navy for approximately 17 years, beginning her career as an undesignated airmen. She spent 14 years primarily assigned to large deck commands, including USS Wasp (LHD 1), USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), USS George Washington (CVN 73), and USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71).

“During those years I met many people in need of emotional support dealing with various life stressors. I would help anyone in any way I could in hope that they would be stable enough to keep themselves safe out to sea. Working on a flight deck is accelerating and fun but if your head is not on straight it may cost you a limb or even your life. I found great satisfaction in helping people get back on their feet and move forward so I decided to look into being a SARP counselor and got accepted into special programs and into Navy Drug and Alcohol Counselor School,” said Betancourt, noting that the two deployments on hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) and another on USNS Comfort (T-AH-20) helped her decision to switch career field.

“I was there as an ABH on the flight deck but I volunteered for different events and I was able to see the amazing things that Navy Medicine does for others,” added Betancourt.

While assigned to Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command (NMRTC) Bremerton she was readily acknowledged as a superb leader. She led 22 enlisted personnel and provided support to 13 officer and civilian licensed healthcare providers in the provision of care for approximately 10,400 beneficiaries. She personally conducted 100 substance use assessments along with 2,600 hours of small group therapy, while managing 215 patients.

“This recognition signifies being part of something bigger than myself. This signifies hope for all the military members that come to SARP believing that no one in the military or in their lives care about them. Being a counselor is not just a job, or rank, or rate. It’s being a human. I love doing this job because at the end of the day I know that I have put my best forward to help in any way possible to make a change in a person’s life,” exclaimed Betancourt.

Betancourt attests that although NMRTC Bremerton only has 10 counselors, together they form a strong team based on the diversity of everyone coming from different background as well as different Navy Enlisted Classification(s) to provide patients a wide variety of counselors to identify with.

“Part of being a substance abuse counselor means that I never stop learning. I have to work on myself because if I can’t help myself then how do I expect to help others? I have become a better person in the process without even realizing it. I have learned so much from this team and I can truly say these counselors do it for the love of helping others. Special thanks to SARP Counselor ENC (John) Antoine who pointed me in the right direction,” Betancourt said.

Betancourt took it upon herself to seek creative and inventive upgrades in caring for those in need. She launched a new SARP schedule which led to an upgrade of patient care access and allowed the ability to accommodate patient load from another command. She chaired a panel to ensure compliance by SARP with new Washington state statues, saving the command $384,000 in care costs while retaining the necessary state credentials. She also improved intake procedures, revised the curriculum, and decreased the program length to better accommodate command and participant needs.

“Initially we were constantly adjusting start dates for Intensive Outpatient (IOP) in order to keep a 12-15 member open group. When we were contacted about temporally taking the patient load from Naval Health Clinic Oak Harbor SARP we knew this would push our access to care past 45 days,” related Betancourt. “We implemented alternating schedules between counselors in order to run two IOP groups simultaneously. While one group would be in a lecture, the other would be in group therapy. Additionally, we split up our clients to conduct individual sessions. This was an all hands effort being that we now had double work with a small number of counselors, at times we had to utilize other spaces throughout the hospital to facilitate lectures.”

Her care for SARP patients didn’t end there. She took it upon herself to establish the command’s initial Recovery Coach Program for service members transitioning out of the military, connecting them with community-based care and resources.

“The Recovery Coach Program is volunteer coaches that have undergone training and are matched with clients/patients,” explained Betancourt. “The coaches and recoverees work together on goals and the coach supports by offering guidance, friendship and their own life story to help motivate the recoveree. This program is crucial for the members that are being discharged and will no longer be able to get help from SARP counselors. This is one more resource that helps to stay sober and clean for a healthy life outside of the military.”

Betancourt acknowledges that the best part of her career has been the opportunity to meet so many amazing people along the way who have helped her grow not only as a Sailor but most importantly as a leader and a person.

“My amazing husband is my biggest support and came into my life because of the Navy. There are so many people I can mention from the last 17 years. You all know who you are. I am extremely thankful,” Betancourt said.

With the Navy Surgeon General’s priority on operational readiness, Navy Medicine focus is on the core mission of producing force medical readiness and medical force readiness. SARP is an integral part of the mental health component.

“In order to maintain force readiness, you need to have a healthy force. This team provides the care that many seem to overlook or ignore. We work with addiction and mental health. If our force is not emotionally and mentally stable then it does not matter if their body is healthy,” said Betancourt.

“For instance,” continued Betancourt. “If I was on the flight deck during flight operations, I can be knowledgeable and fast but if my mind is distracted, I can miss that simple step that will put everyone’s life in danger.”

The current on-going pandemic outbreak presented some initial challenges, but also opportunities that SARP has implemented.

“In this time dealing with COVID-19 we have changed everything and had to find ways to keep supporting our forces. We always find a way. In the beginning we had no idea how effective the shift to virtual groups would be but it has given the SARP clinic greater access to care. Virtual treatment now allows the service member to get the treatment they need in a timely manner so they can return to duty.”

Her ‘superb leadership demonstrated ability and proven excellence resulted in her selection,’ and ‘exceptional initiative and total dedication reflected credit upon herself and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service,’ wrote Rear Adm. Bruce L. Gillingham, Navy Surgeon General and chief, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.

When asked to sum up her experience here with Navy Medicine in one sentence, Betancourt replied, “This experience has been eye-opening, humbling, fulfilling and full of hope.”





Date Taken: 08.28.2020
Date Posted: 08.28.2020 13:11
Story ID: 377032
Location: BREMERTON , WA, US 




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