New statistics show that the number of Iraq and Afghanistan veteran patients being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and who have had PTSD claims approved increased. Also, new research projects are in the works to treat PTSD and traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
The statistics, prepared by the advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) with information obtained from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), indicate that the number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans treated by the VA increased from 480,000 reported in June 2009 up to 508,000 reported in September 2009.
Also, of those veterans treated by the VA, the number of patients who were diagnosed with at least one type of mental health condition, such as PTSD or TBI, were about half of the veterans treated both as of June last year and March this year.
In addition, the number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are being treated as PTSD patients by the VA has increased from 134,000 in June last year to 143,530 reported in January this year for up through the fourth quarter in Fiscal Year 2009. Also, the number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans' claims against the VA that were approved for PTSD claims increased from 59,000 in June last year to 67,052 reported in November for up through September 2009.
"The VA data lead to the likely conclusions that, first, more veterans are returning home with serious mental health conditions, and second, that VA is providing diagnoses and treatment," said Paul Sullivan, spokesperson for VCS.
Also, Sullivan said, "VCS remains seriously concerned that VA appears to be failing our veterans diagnosed with PTSD. VA fails the veterans by not granting them the disability benefits when they need them."
However, he said, "There is good news on the horizon. VA is expected in the very near future to introduce final regulations to streamline PTSD regulations. VCS hopes this new regulations fix the problem where only half of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans receive disability benefits for their PTSD diagnosis."
Also, Sullivan said, "You notice that the number of new patients rose by 28,000 in three months? That rise is more than 9,000 new Iraq and Afghanistan patients every month. That means a first-time Iraq or Afghanistan veteran patient walks into a VA hospital every five minutes. That's the true number of casualties from the war."
VCS has estimated that the country may see a total of one million patients from the two wars at a total price tag of $1 trillion and rising.
As the number of PTSD diagnoses and claims rise, new research about PTSD is also on the horizon.
A new program will test new ways to identify and treat combat veterans who are suffering from PTSD disorder and TBI. The US Army Medical Research and Material Command is overseeing the work through the Department of Defense's Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP).
With a $400 million budget funding 17 different programs, CDMRP has expanded its focus to confront devastating health problems such as PTSD and TBI. The CDMRP's Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (PH/TBI) Research Program (formerly called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury Research Program) was created in 2007 in response to US Troop Readiness, Veterans' Care, Katrina Recovery and the Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act, which provided $150 million for research on PTSD and $150 million for research on TBI.
Key priorities of the PH/TBI Research Program are to complement ongoing Department of Defense efforts to ensure the health and readiness of the military forces and to support the Department of Defense Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence in its efforts to advance and spread PH/TBI knowledge and to facilitate other vital services to best serve the needs of veterans' families impacted by PH problems and/or TBI.
Of eight planned clinical trials, one that is to begin this spring will test the benefit of administering a synthetic form of a neuro-steroid drug to PTSD patients. The drug naturally appears in the brain, but at lower levels, among some PTSD patients. It is expected to help relieve some PTSD symptoms such as anxiety, rage and aggression.
Another program tries to assess behavioral therapies to treat combat-related PTSD. Also, one program studies the benefit of offering treatment in primary-care facilities rather than mental health clinics.
In addition, one project under way in Central Texas is studying the benefit of offering troops with PTSD four, 30-minute sessions with a behavioral health consultant over six weeks.
Also, another program being done in the Houston area is being conducted by four academic institutions and hopes to develop better ways to diagnose mild TBI and improve patients' chances of overcoming it through nearly immediate treatment. One clinical trial will examine the link between endocrine dysfunction in patients with mild TBI and the benefits of treating TBI with hormone supplements.