VA Research in support of using engagement (camaraderie) to treat PTSD

Get After It

Thoughts and observations from Perry Jefferies.

Yesterday, Texas A&M hosted Grand Rounds – an educational seminar – on “Predictors of PTSD and Depression in Returning Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans.”  This was a good discussion of work in progress by the VA on studies of these new Veterans to see if there are factors that make it more likely they will suffer PTSD.  Dr. Sandra Morissette, who works with the VA and the Texas A&M Health Science Center, presented the session.

She told us about a series of nine studies underway right now among Veterans in Central Texas to study predictors of PTSD in blood, genes, past experiences, and more.  This study is to identify things they can change.  While it is interesting and informing to know if certain genetic makeups can lend themselves to developing PTSD, we can’t change that.  And it is unlikely the military services would be able to exclude people from combat on that basis.  So, we need to find things that we can do something about it. 

I learned a new acronym in this session – PCS, for Persistent Concussive Symptoms – the lingering effects of being “blowed up” as some troops refer to it.  PCS does not refer to the effects of the moment of the blast, or the traumatic brain injury (TBI) that might accompany it.  PCS refers to the lingering effects like poor concentration, memory problems, irritability, headaches, fatigue, depression, anxiety, dizziness and increased sensitivity to sound and light.  Some symptoms were not considered because other conditions could cause them. 

The early conclusions are that some factors, that we can change, can lead to, indicate, or help prevent or lessen PTSD.  These are coping skills and the amount of “engagement avoidance” that the Veteran participates in.  This is all a very long way of saying that addressing Veterans to build trust – camaraderie – hope may be the most effective treatment and best preventer of PTSD, depression, and other mental injuries to our Veterans.  This is exactly what the Military Veteran Peer Network provides – meeting Veterans where they are or drawing them into safe situations, engaging them in activities, and letting them talk to other Veterans as they can.  Building trust and camaraderie this way gives these Veterans a sense of hope – the best prevention of suicide. 

More studies and the confirmation of this study are underway.  But what is becoming increasingly clear to the scientific and medical community is something that Veterans have known for millennia – Veterans are the best people to talk with other Veterans.  Doing so builds trust and camaraderie.  That offers hope.  We are doing this today with the Military Veteran Peer Network.  Time to get after it.