By Kelly Kennedy – Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday May 6, 2009 13:36:12 EDT
The military prides itself on taking care of its own. But a researcher who has studied post-traumatic stress disorder said local communities must play a larger role in the safety net for combat veterans.
If local organizations do not reach out proactively to the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments to become more engaged in treating the veterans returning to their communities, they can expect the veterans’ pain to affect their families, their ability to contribute to society, and even their ability to care for themselves, said Audrey Burnam, senior behavioral scientist at the Rand Corp. think tank.
Burnam said vets returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq represent a “historic opportunity” for communities to learn more about PTSD, educate others about the illness and come together to deal with it.
Burnam, who spoke at a Health Affairs Journal panel May 5 in Washington, is the lead author of a new Rand report, “Mental Health Care for Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans,” that makes a case for a broad reform of services that looks beyond VA.
She said American communities can expect the return of as many as 300,000 veterans dealing with symptoms of PTSD or traumatic brain injury. Though many will get the help they need while still in uniform, or their symptoms will resolve on their own, many more will deal with sleep disorders, nightmares, relationship issues, anger and flashbacks until they get the help they need.
But in addition to a continued reluctance among veterans to seek care, there are only about 500,000 mental health care professionals nationwide. Some areas have as few as eight psychiatrists per 100,000 people.