Panel notes progress in fight against PTSD

| November 11, 2010 | 0 Comments

Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON — A panel of experts recently noted significant progress in the efforts of the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments to help service members, veterans and their families affected by post-traumatic stress disorder.

Gen. George Casey Jr., Army chief of staff, recently noted that the percentage of service members who avoid seeking psychological treatment because of a perceived stigma attached to asking for help, has dropped from 90 percent to 50 percent.

Casey’s frequent assertion that building service members’ emotional resilience is just as important as their physical conditioning — known in the Army as Comprehensive Soldier Fitness — captured the essence of a panel discussion by medical and military experts.

“The Army and rest of Department of Defense are committed to finding ways to help (those with PTSD),” said Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff, noting that more than 900,000 people have used the program’s global assessment tool that measures resilience. “We can teach people to be more resilient.”

“We’re addressing a difficult problem,” said retired Air Force Lt. Col. Greg Harbin, a victim of PTSD, “and we’re taking the lead on it.

“One day, I called the Wounded Warrior Program, and it saved me. … You people are the heroes,” Harbin told the panel, speaking about his own struggle with PTSD. 

Dr. Katie Chard, director of the PTSD and anxiety disorders clinic at Cincinnati Veterans Medical Center, said evidence-based treatment works for veterans and active duty troops. The VA system has 3,000 PTSD-trained therapists, and DoD has 500, she said, so service members can start therapy while on active duty, and continue that therapy at a VA hospital after they leave the service. 

Chard said 150 hospitals around the U.S. have clinics with trained PTSD therapists.

Capt. Paul Bucha, Vietnam veteran and Medal of Honor recipient, said it took him 40 years to come to grips with his PTSD.

“I think for the first time, we’re having open, solid, honest effort, but we won’t be successful, as (Casey) said, if we’re only at 50 percent,” Bucha said. “It’s 100 percent (that we need). You can have four stars or no stripes, man or woman, (and) you don’t know when it’s going to manifest itself, but it will. No one is exempt.”

More progress is needed in removing the stigma attached to seeking treatment, Bucha added. 

“It will start to go away when the three-stars and the four-stars and the tough sergeants major stand up to it,” Bucha said, emphasizing that mental conditioning for the armed forces is vital.

Chiarelli said officials are working hard to get people the treatment they need as soon as possible, noting that the current average time from the stress-inducing event to the start of therapy is 12 years.

“We’re training our medics to recognize symptoms downrange so we can start treating them immediately,” he said.

Panelists, who discussed how to treat PTSD, were Chiarelli; Chard; Gregory Goldstein, program manager for Marine Corps combat and operational stress control; Bucha; and Harbin. 

Doug Wilson, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, and Tammy Duckworth, assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs for public and intergovernmental affairs, served as moderators. 

Category: Army News Service, News

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