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On June 21, 2004, several ISTSS members participated in a congressional briefing that explored the issues of trauma and aging. This event was hosted by the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) and the American Psychological Association (APA). Sen. John Breaux, D-La., the ranking member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging and longtime champion of mental health and aging issues, sponsored the briefing, which drew a crowd of senior staff from key Senate offices and leaders of health and aging organizations. The expert panel of witnesses included ISTSS members, Mary W. Armsworth, PhD; Joan M. Cook, PhD; and moderator, Diane L. Elmore, PhD. Also included in the panel was aging expert, Martha R. Crowther, PhD, and older adult veteran and trauma survivor, Albert M. Perna.

Highlights from the congressional briefing included:

  • Understanding the Normative Aging Process. Martha R. Crowther, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Health Behavior at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, laid the foundation for the discussion of trauma and aging by providing an overview of the normative aging process. She helped to dispel myths commonly associated with mental health and aging and highlighted the need for continued research focused on aging trauma survivors.
  • The Legacy of Child Abuse. Mary W. Armsworth, PhD, associate professor of counseling psychology at the University of Houston and co-chair of the ISTSS Intergenerational SIG, drew from her more than 20 years of research, teaching and clinical experience with adverse and traumatic experiences to highlight the long-term consequences of child abuse on female survivors as they age. She explained that many aging survivors struggle with depression, anxiety, interpersonal relationship difficulties and high medical-care utilization into older adulthood. Armsworth called on policy-makers to support prevention and early intervention programs; support research related to women and trauma; increase access to services for female survivors and their families; and provide systematic trauma training for health care providers, law-enforcement officers, caregivers and indigenous leaders, among others.
  • Meeting the Needs of Aging Veterans. Joan M. Cook, PhD, psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, discussed the lifelong impact of war trauma on aging veterans, including distress, adaptation and resilience. She recommended that legislators support research related to physical, mental and behavioral health in veterans; encourage the translation of research findings into prevention and intervention services that assist veterans and their families; and provide screening and appropriate services for veterans exposed to traumatic events.
  • A Survivor’s Story. Albert M. Perna, a World War II veteran and prisoner of war who landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day, discussed the tremendous impact that war trauma has had on his life and that of his family. He shared his continued battle with chronic PTSD and discussed the benefits of the treatment that he has received through the VA health care system. Perna encouraged policy-makers to support older veterans with PTSD along with their younger counterparts returning home from recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. His testimony culminated in a standing ovation, which is quite a rare occurrence at such an event.
  • Bringing the Message Home. Following the briefing, the panel of experts met with their congressional offices and staff of key congressional committees (e.g., Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs) to address the needs of trauma survivors of all ages in their home states. The group of experts followed up with policy-makers by sharing research and policy recommendations related to prevention, early intervention and treatment of trauma.

For more information and to view photos of this event, visit the APA Public Policy Office Web site at www.apa.org/ppo.

Diane L. Elmore, PhD, the SPSSI James Marshall Public Policy Scholar in the American Psychological Association Public Policy Office, convened and moderated this congressional briefing. Elmore also is co-chair of the ISTSS Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma and Resilience SIG.