Behavior Analysis in Military and Veterans’ Issues

Photo by Mitchell Luo on Unsplash

By Kent A. Corso and Abigail B. Calkin

The Military and Veterans (MilVet) SIG is entering its eleventh year of operation at ABAI. The SIG focuses on how the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA) can contribute to those who currently serve or previously served in the military. There are many issues that concern the military and veteran communities (e.g., suicide, PTSD, TBI, and autism). Co-chairs, Abigail Calkin and Kent Corso, and members remain excited about working on the issues and needs of this specific population. During its early years, the SIG devoted a significant amount of time to increasing membership, while also examining viable ways of accessing the military and veteran community. A few exciting projects are now well underway that have helped recruit additional members.

The MilVet SIG currently has 110 members. When the co-chairs first applied to be a SIG there were 14 members. One of the MilVet SIG members, Megan Miller, created a Facebook page on May 28, 2014: Behavior Analysis in Military and Veterans’ Issues SIG. The site is a closed group, which grew to 86 members in its first year. At the end of its second year, it had 190 members, an increase of 220%. In its third year, membership was 252, and as of March 1, 2022, the page had 627 members.

This year SIG members completed an unexpected fourth year for what was planned and funded as a three-year long research project at Whiteman Air Force Base, the Air Force installation with the most suicides among all Air Force installations. SIG co-chair, Kent Corso, led the team, including SIG members Jim Meador, Abigail Calkin, and Mike Kondis. Archived data were collected, mirroring the pilot study these same SIG members conducted in 2016-2017 for the Air National Guard. Combined with survey data, the team learned how morale and uneven application of discipline increase airmen risk for suicide. Using the only native application for the standard celeration chart (i.e., AimStar Pro), the team also concluded that a peer-to-peer intervention for suicides at Whiteman AFB was successful. In January 2020, the same team launched the first API for the digital standard celeration chart, for the first time in history, enabling computers to communicate about data and automatically generate a standard celeration chart for those data. This team also published a research paper in the journal Families, Systems & Health, using the API to analyze COVID-19 data. The article was published here in March 2022:

Our Facebook page contains weekly questions and requests about opportunities to learn more about how to treat this population and where to gain such experience. The absence of formal systems of ABA care delivery within the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs continues to be a barrier to providing ABA providers access to helping this population. SIG member Dr. John Borgen, now at Mississippi State University, has completed his literature review to help support advocacy for ABA’s application in the Departments of Defense and Veteran Affairs medical systems. The SIG formally requested that ABAI partner with it to discuss potential advocacy and collaboration to address this issue. There were two phone calls in early summer 2021 to move forward together, but this collaboration seems to have stalled due to multiple competing demands for the SIG and ABAI representatives. The critical barrier for spreading ABA to veterans and service members is that it does not meet the requirements contained in federal regulation: 32 CFR 199.2 definition for reliable evidence standards. Without inclusion in this federal statute, ABA will not be accepted or reimbursed for anything other than autism within these medical systems.

There is much that the field of ABA can contribute to the military and veteran community. Despite the barriers, the SIG will continue to support this community, raise awareness and build momentum through the ABA community at ABAI and elsewhere. Professional conferences are great opportunities to meet prospective members of the MilVet SIG, current members, and the co-chairs. Any parties interested in SIG, contact Dr. Corso at or Dr. Calkin at Membership in the MilVet SIG is free.

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