Mental health is one of those things that we don’t want to talk about too much. With so much still unknown about the coronavirus, many people are still depressed, anxious, scared and stressed. We’ve watched how the world has changed during the pandemic, with millions of people losing their lives, and there is still a stigma related to the virus. Wear a mask. Don’t wear a mask. In the beginning, the coronavirus was thought to only affect the elderly population, but now, a year later, we know that to be untrue. Isolation, food and supply shortages were all things we dealt with during the pandemic.
Now the world is starting to open back up after more than a year of being isolated from families and friends. Many people are asking, “How do we ever get back to being normal?” One thing we can do is get vaccinated. Vaccines are now available to all people over the age of 12, and they are reducing the number of COVID-19 deaths and severe illnesses. In fact, 79.5% of those fully vaccinated are people 65 years or older. The COVID-19 vaccine is free to all Medicare beneficiaries.
Even though the pandemic is not over, (with the Delta variant a new concern) it is under better control. Americans are starting to travel again, see family and attend events with larger crowds. While these are good things, some of this news can cause many people to feel overwhelmed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “It is natural to feel stress, anxiety, grief and worry during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Below are ways that you can help yourself, others and your community manage stress:

  • Turn the TV off. Reduce exposure to news stories, which can trigger stress.
  • Eat healthy, go for a walk and get plenty of sleep.
  • Find a new hobby or make time to do an old one.
  • Connect with others either in person or by phone.
  • Connect with your community or faith-based organizations. (CDC, 2021)

While we all wait for the World Health Organization to declare the COVID-19 pandemic over, we must still take proper precautions to ensure safety. If you are unvaccinated, according the CDC, you will still need to wear your mask. Seeing others not wearing a mask may also be stressful because you can’t be sure they are vaccinated.
If you are having trouble managing your feelings or not feeling like yourself, see your doctor or other approved healthcare provider and tell them how you are feeling. Don’t wait until your next annual wellness visit. Even if you don’t feel up to (or ready to face) getting out for a visit, many doctors today are offering telehealth visits. Some Medicare benefits you may not know of include:

  • Yearly depression screening
  • Diagnostic testing
  • Family counseling
  • Psychiatric evaluation
  • Individual and group psychotherapy
  • Medication management
  • Annual wellness visit
  • Caregiver-focused behavioral health risk assessment of their own behavior and health risks, which benefits the patient
  • Cognitive assessment and care planning
  • Drug therapy
  • Drug withdrawal treatment and other substance use disorder treatments
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Initial Preventive Physical Examination (IPPE) to review medical and social health history and provide preventive services education

For more information about your Medicare benefits and how they can help you get help when you’re feeling down, please call Palmetto GBA’s beneficiary contact center at 800-833-4455, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET. You are also encouraged to sign up for Palmetto’s email updates. To do so, click “Email Updates” on the top banner on the Palmetto GBA website at to start the process.
If you’d like to read more about the CDC and its information on coping with stress related to the coronavirus, please visit their website:

Palmetto GBA is the Railroad Specialty Medicare Administrative Contractor (RRB SMAC) and processes Part B claims for Railroad Retirement beneficiaries nationwide. Palmetto GBA is contracted by the independent federal agency Railroad Retirement Board (RRB), which administers comprehensive retirement-survivor and unemployment-sickness benefit programs for railroad workers and their families under the Railroad Retirement and Railroad Unemployment Insurance Acts.

Watch a primer video about COVID-19
United Behavioral Health/Optum offer a free emotional support help line. The help line is available 24/7 and open to the public for as long as necessary, providing access to specially trained mental health specialists to help people manage stress and anxiety so they can continue to address everyday needs.
Callers may also receive referrals to community resources to help them with specific concerns, including financial and legal matters.
Call the United Behavioral Health/Optum help line: 1-866-342-6892
Online resources and information are also available by registering with Optum: Coronavirus info: you’ll find information for preparing and recovering from crisis, as well as links to the CDC, Red Cross, and other national organizations. Coping Center: Type the keyword “coping” into the search bar, select Coping. Here you’ll find articles, guides, self-help tools and videos on coping with stress.

Optum has announced that they are taking steps to offer assistance to people impacted by the shooting in Las Vegas. Behavioral care advocates are available 24/7 to address any concerns members may have.
Optum is offering a free emotional support helpline for the people impacted. The toll-free number is 866-342-6892 and will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for as long as is necessary. This helpline provides those affected access to specially trained United Behavioral Health (UBH) mental health specialists. This service is free of charge and open to anyone in need.
Along with the helpline, emotional-support resources and information are available online at
Click here for a flyer on the resources available to you.


The FAA is working with the commercial aviation and medical communities to study the emotional and mental health of U.S. commercial pilots.

The joint FAA and industry group known as the Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST) recommended the study based on the recent Malaysia Flight 370 and Germanwings Flight 9525 accidents.

The Pilot Fitness Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) will provide the FAA with recommendations within six months. The group will include U.S. and international government and industry aviation experts, including a working group of medical professionals who specialize in aerospace medicine.

U.S. pilots undergo robust medical screening, but recent accidents in other parts of the world prompted the FAA to take a new look at the important issue of pilot fitness. 

The ARC will examine issues including the awareness and reporting of emotional and mental health issues, the methods used to evaluate pilot emotional and mental health, and barriers to reporting such issues.

Based on the group’s recommendations, the FAA may consider changes to medical methods, aircraft design, policies and procedures, pilot training and testing, training for Aerospace Medical Examiners, or potential actions that may be taken by professional, airline, or union groups. The ARC’s meetings will not be open to the public.

Federal Aviation Regulations outline the medical requirements for pilots. U.S airline pilots undergo a medical exam with an FAA-approved physician every six or twelve months depending on the pilot’s age.

Palmetto_rgb_web Mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, can come at any age and can happen to anyone. They are nothing to be ashamed of. While they can occur at any time, stressful holidays and the let-down after the holidays often make these conditions worse.
With that in mind, it’s important to know that Railroad Medicare covers many mental health services (Medicare pays 80 percent while the patient pays 20 percent) after your annual deductible is met and when the service is provided by: a psychiatrist or other doctor, a physician assistant, a nurse practitioner, a clinical psychologist, a clinical social worker or a clinical nurse specialist.
Some of the covered services are

  • Annual screening for depression;
  • Individual and group psychotherapy with doctors, or certain other licensed professionals who are allowed by the state to offer these services;
  • Family counseling (if the main purpose is to help with your treatment);
  • Testing to find determine if you’re getting the services you need and/or if your current treatment is helping you;
  • Psychiatric evaluation;
  • Medication management;
  • Occupational therapy that’s part of your mental health treatment;
  • Individual patient training and education about your condition;
  • Diagnostic tests.

Talk to your doctor or health care provider if you feel you may be depressed or have any of these following symptoms (this is not an all-inclusive list):

  • Sad, empty, or hopeless feelings;
  • A lack of energy;
  • Trouble concentrating;
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much;
  • Little interest in things you used to enjoy;
  • Suicidal thoughts.

If you have questions about your Railroad Medicare coverage, you can call their toll-free Customer Service Line at (800) 833-4455, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET. For the hearing impaired, call TTY/TDD at (877) 566-3572. This line is for the hearing impaired with the appropriate dial-up service and is available during the same hours Customer Service Representatives are available.
Visit Railroad Medicare’s Facebook page at Join Railroad Medicare’s listserv/e-mail updates. Just select the ‘E-Mail Updates’ in the ‘Stay Connected’ section on the lower left-hand side of our main webpage at

Beginning in April and continuing through June, a new “point of entry” program will be available for participants covered under the Railroad Employees National Health and Welfare Plan or the National Railway Carriers/United Transportation Union Plan sponsored by the national freight railroads.

The program is designed to provide an enhanced level of service for eligible railroad members and/or their eligible dependents who call UBH to access mental health services.

The objective of the program is to provide services immediately upon calling, when they are likely to be needed most. This support may help eligible members and/or eligible dependents better manage their situation in the long run, and provide a foundation for faster, more complete resolution of issues.

When calling UBH, members will be given the option to have immediate telephonic coaching/counseling, which will not count against available outpatient visits. In addition, there is no co-pay for these immediate telephonic services. If an individual requires face-to-face services after having the telephonic session, the counselor can authorize the services.

The pilot project is for members contacting the dedicated UBH railroad team in Atlanta. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact UBH at (866) 850-6212.