Combating PTSD & TBI

Evidence-based research and therapies help veterans with trauma-related disorders.

Emotional turmoil following the Vietnam War has taken its toll on U.S. veterans. Too many have turned to alcohol and drugs to help relieve the pain they experienced. Not only did many feel abandoned by their country, but some by their own family members who didn't know how to help with war-related health problems, specifically posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Currently, there are about 500,000 Vietnam War veterans with chronic PTSD, and the U.S. government spends more than $4 billion per year in disability payments, according to University of Texas Health Sciences Center researchers.

Research with civilians with noncombat-related PTSD, such as a motor vehicle accidents (MVA), has shown most can be treated successfully with a type of counseling called "exposure therapies."

Symptom reductions are large and fairly permanent, said Col. Stacey Young-McCaughan, PhD, RN, AOCN, who recently retired after 29 years in the U. S. Army Nurse Corps and now serves as chief of the department of clinical investigation and co-chair institutional review board, Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio.

However, the same exposure therapies approach hasn't been as successful with most veterans, she added.

"Treating combat-related PTSD in military veterans from previous conflicts, such as Vietnam, can be difficult, when treated after discharge from active duty and after a significant amount of time has passed between when the trauma occurred and the counseling is started," said Young-McCaughan, who is also a professor at the school of medicine, department of psychiatry, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA).

A Different Strategy
However, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is determined to help a new generation of veterans by intervening earlier with specific treatments for military veterans exhibiting PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI), Young-McCaughan said.

With Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)/Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) veterans, the U.S. has adopted a different strategy designed to facilitate better long-term health. The DoD has deployed nearly 2 million military personnel in support of OIF/OEF since 2001, with one in six returning veterans presenting with symptoms of PTSD.

"It is currently estimated that up to 300,000 OIF/OEF veterans are at significant risk for developing chronic PTSD," Young-McCaughan said. 

In 2008, the DoD granted $35 million to establish a PTSD Research Consortium administered through the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command Congressionally-Directed Medical Research Program and funded by the DoD's Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Research Program http://cdmrp.army.mil/phtbi/.

One PTSD Research Consortium was funded, namely the South Texas Research Organizational Network Guiding Studies on Trauma and Resilience (STRONG STAR) which is a multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional research group centered in San Antonio.

STRONG STAR multidisciplinary PTSD research consortium director, Stacey Young-McCaughan, PhD, RN, meets with (left) consortium director, retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Alan Peterson, PhD, professor, department of psychiatry, University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio, to discuss the consortium's numerous clinical trials on PTSD. courtesy UTHSCSA

Young-McCaughan coordinates the clinical trials associated with STRONG STAR, which is led by consortium director, retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Alan Peterson, PhD.

"Congress has appropriated a one-time award set aside for 5 years of research," Young-McCaughan said. "This is a rigorous infrastructure that will benefit both military and civilian patients."

A Team Effort
As the consortium coordinator, Young-McCaughan and STRONG STAR investigators hope to improve countless lives by preventing the onset of chronic PTSD in younger veterans.

The objective is to develop and evaluate the most effective early-interventions possible for the detection, prevention and treatment of combat-related PTSD in active-duty and recently discharged OIF/OEF veterans, she said.

Under the leadership of UTHSCSA, the consortium is a team of military, civilian and Veterans Affairs (VA) institutions and investigators, as well as one of the largest populations of active-duty and recently discharged OIF/OEF combat veterans in the nation.

"We have organized a team to create and implement a centralized, coordinated, health services research program to identify and solve many of the problems related to causes, diagnoses, treatment and rehabilitation of PTSD and other trauma-related disorders," Young-McCaughan said.

Combating PTSD & TBI

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I had a tbi happen in 1998.... I have ptsd to. It has it's good days and bad days. It's 2am so not to good right now.... I live in Oklahoma and all the rehabs around want to shove god down your throat....I just want to find a solid rehab with no religion involved....need fact not faith and all i see is that we as a people with these injuries just slip thru the cracks...... America likes to help .... Well anyway thanks

Bobby August 05, 2013

I am a workforce professional and know first hand how important a role employment can play in the recovery and rehabilitation process for many of our returning Service Members with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and/or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I wanted to share a FREE resource, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor. America’s Heroes at Work is an anti-stigma & public education campaign geared toward employers – to help ensure the employment success of Veterans and returning Service Members living with TBI and/or PTSD. The project features a Web site where resources, training tools, success stories and other information are provided to help employers (and Veterans) understand both injuries - and how to work together to put successful workplace accommodations in place to ensure a successful transition into the civilian workforce. Hope this information is helpful.

Lisa Stern,  ConsultantJanuary 10, 2010


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