ISTSS Briefs U.S. Congress about Initiatives to Address Mental Health Needs of Service Members, Veterans, and their Families
Diane L. Elmore, PhD, MPH
July 1, 2008
On May 22, 2008, ISTSS co-sponsored its first congressional briefing entitled “Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Service Members, Veterans, and their Families: Innovative Strategies for Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery”. This event, co-sponsored with the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), was held in the U.S. Capitol and hosted in collaboration with U.S. Representatives Grace Napolitano (D-CA) and Tim Murphy (R-PA) and the Congressional Mental Health Caucus in honor of Mental Health Month.
Congresswoman Napolitano a longstanding champion on mental health issues, began the briefing by sharing her concern regarding the mental health consequences that war can have on soldiers and their families. She discussed some of the efforts that the U.S. Congress has been making to ensure appropriate care for service members and veterans and expressed her commitment to continue to spearhead and support such initiatives.
U.S. Representative Grace Napolitano addresses issues concerning care for service members and veterans.
Former ISTSS President, Bonnie Green, PhD, Georgetown University Medical Center, moderated the briefing and shared welcoming remark s on behalf of the three sponsoring organizations with the large crowd of staff and advisors from key co ngressional offices and committees, as well as leaders from a variety of national stakeholder groups. She provided an overview of some of the most pressing mental health issues facing those returning from war, followed by an introduction of the distinguished panel of experts, including Lt. Col. Jay Stone, PhD; Amy Street, PhD; William Saltzman, PhD; and Iraq veteran, Tom Tarantino.
Lt. Col. Jay Stone, PhD, a psychologist with the Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, provided an overview of the Department of Defense Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP). The CDP, directed by ISTSS member David Riggs, PhD, is an innovative tri-service training consortium established by Congress to train military and civilian psychologists, psychology interns/residents, and other behavioral health professionals to provide high quality deployment-related behavioral health services to military personnel and their families. Lt. Col. Stone described the two-week intensive training course that the CDP hosts five times a year, which covers a variety of key topics related to the care of service members and their families, including the deployment experience of service members and military mental health care providers; the emotional impact of trauma and the treatment of PTSD; behavioral health care of the seriously medically injured and the effect of deployment on the family. He also highlighted additional workshops and seminars conducted across the U.S. by the CDP faculty, such as 3-day trainings on prolonged exposure therapy for treating PTSD, in an effort to disseminate information on deployment-related behavioral health. For more information on the CDP, please visit http://deploymentpsych.org.
Amy Street, PhD, a researcher in the Women’s Health Sciences Division of the National Center for PTSD (NC-PSTD), VA Boston Healthcare System, discussed the contributions of female service members in the global war on terror and VA efforts to address the mental health needs of returning women veterans. She began by introducing the audience to the NC-PTSD and its mission to promote the best clinical care and functional status of veterans through research, education, and training related to the etiology, diagnosis, and treatment of PTSD and stress-related disorders. She then highlighted some key NC-PTSD initiatives of relevance to returning veterans, including resource guides (e.g., Iraq War Clinician Guide), dissemination of evidence-based treatments for PTSD throughout the VA, and efforts to provide training/consultation regarding evidence-based treatments for PTSD with active duty military. Dr. Street also discussed some of the unique issues facing female veterans during deployment and following homecoming, including increased risk of sexual trauma, potential for decreased social support from peers and supervisors, risk for increased parenting stress; and potential that military service will not be recognized or appreciated. She then identified some of the current and future VA efforts focused on female veterans, including research targeting issues of relevance to women service members; partnerships with the Department of Defense (DoD) to understand women’s unique risk factors and to develop PTSD prevention strategies, evaluation of gender differences in the effectiveness of PTSD treatments, and education of VA clinicians to increase their sensitivity to the needs of women veterans.
Dr. Saltzman, University of California Los Angeles and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, began his presentation by identifying some of the key challenges facing military families including extended and repeated separations, altered family roles and responsibilities, increased stress on the caretaking parent, and possible parental mental health problems, physical injury, or loss. He then discussed the Families OverComing Under Stress (FOCUS) Project, an innovative initiative aimed at strengthening military families. This resiliency training program for military families with children was established in Spring 2008 under a contract by Bureau of Navy Medicine & Surgery (BUMED). The FOCUS program aims to reduce the impact of combat stress reactions across the family, support more open and effective communication, address ongoing interference of combat stress reminders on family life, support parents working together to monitor interactions and maintain consistent routines, and develop positive coping skills to address challenges, build resiliency, and enhance readiness within the family. Dr. Saltzman provided examples from this promising new project to illustrate innovative ways of reaching out to military families who may be experiencing deployment related stressors. For more information on the FOCUS Project, please visit http://focusproject.org
The expert panel concluded with the remarks of Tom Tarantino, an Iraq veteran who currently serves as a Policy Associate inIAVA’s Washington, DC office. Mr. Tarantino, a former Army Captain who completed 10 years of military service in 2007, provided a brief overview of his personal combat experiences as both a cavalry and mortar platoon leader. He then shared an eloquent and heart felt story of a close comrade who battled psychological injuries during and following deployment. Mr. Tarantino discussed some of the key barriers faced by many of his fellow returning soldiers who are in need of mental health care, including stigma, concerns about the effect of seeking treatment on their military career, timely access to quality services, and transitional gaps between the DoD and VA systems. He urged policy makers to use the personal story that he shared to help them understand the needs of many returning soldiers and their families and to guide and inform their federal policy efforts. To learn more about the work of IAVA, please visit http://www.iava.org