Senators want data on prescription drug use

By Andrew Tilghman – Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Mar 25, 2010 20:06:59 EDT

Several senators expressed concern Wednesday about increasing psychiatric drug usage among service members and called on top military health officials to provide detailed data about how many troops are on anti-depressants and other mind-altering drugs. At a hearing on Capitol Hill, Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s military personnel panel, cited a recent Military Times report about the spike in psychotropic drug use in the military community, pointing to evidence that overall psychiatric drug usage has risen about 76 percent since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  “We’ve seen recent reports of increased prescription drug use that are deeply troubling … in fact, the data is stunning,” Webb told the surgeons general from the Army, Navy and Air Force and the Marine Corps’s top health official, who all appeared at the hearing on the military health system.  But military officials are backing off previous statements to lawmakers about psychiatric drug usage.  On Feb. 24, the Army’s top psychiatrist, Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, testified before Congress that about 17 percent of the active-duty force uses some form of psychiatric medications.   read more


Study Suggests More Veterans May Be Helped by Talking About Killing

Published: February 13, 2010

The act of killing is as fundamental to war as oxygen is to fire. Yet it is also the one thing many combat veterans avoid discussing when they return home, whether out of shame, guilt or a deep fear of being misunderstood.  But a new study of Iraq war veterans by researchers in San Francisco suggests that more discussion of killing may help veterans cope with an array of mental health problems stemming from war.  The study, published last week in The Journal of Traumatic Stress, found that soldiers who reported having killed in combat, or who gave orders that led to killing, were more likely to report the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol abuse, anger and relationship problems. The study was based on data from health assessments conducted on about 2,800 soldiers who returned from Iraq in 2005 and 2006.  Shira Maguen, a psychologist at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the principal investigator on the study, said the results suggested that mental health professionals need to incorporate killing more explicitly into their assessments and treatment plans for veterans. That would include finding ways to discuss the impact of killing, in public forums and in private treatment, to reduce the stigma and shame, she argued.   read more

Many Veterans Not Getting Enough Treatment for PTSD

ScienceDaily (Feb. 12, 2010) — Although the Department of Veteran Affairs is rolling out treatments nationwide as fast as possible to adequately provide for newly diagnosed PTSD patients, there are still significant barriers to veterans getting a full course of PTSD treatment. The study is published in the latest issue of the Journal of Traumatic Stress.  More than 230,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans sought treatment for the first time at VA healthcare facilities nationwide between 2002 and 2008. More than 20 percent of these veterans, almost 50,000, received a new PTSD diagnosis. Treatments that have been shown to be effective for PTSD typically require 10-12 weekly sessions. VA follows these recommendations, however, fewer than ten percent of those Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with newly diagnosed PTSD complete this recommended “dose” of PTSD treatment. When the timeframe was expanded to a year rather than four months, fewer than thirty percent of the veterans completed the recommended course of treatment.  read more

Genes and Circuitry, Not Just Clinical Observation

Science Update
January 28, 2010

NIMH is launching a long-term project aimed at ultimately improving treatment and prevention by studying classification of mental illness, based on genetics and neuroscience in addition to clinical observation. The Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) project is not intended to replace psychiatry’s existing diagnostic system for practitioners and will proceed in an independent direction, said Bruce Cuthbert, Ph.D., Director of the NIMH Division of Adult Translational Research, who is directing the effort. By taking a fresh look – without preconceived categories – the project aims to improve the validity of classification for researchers.  RDoC will create a framework to study basic dimensions of functioning — such as fear or memory. It will encompass multiple levels of analysis, from genes to neural circuits to behaviors — cutting across traditional diagnostic categories.  Strategy 1.4 of the Institute’s Strategic Plan calls for such “new ways of classifying mental disorders based on dimensions of observable behavior and neurobiological measures.” Existing classification schemes define disorders mostly on the basis of presenting symptoms and date back to the early l970s — prior to the neuroscience and genetics advances of the past four decades.  Since then, increasing evidence has emerged of overlap among the traditional diagnostic categories. People often present with more than one diagnosis. Evidence of overlapping genetics and implicated brain circuitry across traditional categories is mounting. As with cancers and infectious illnesses, mental illnesses once lumped together as a single disorder are beginning to be understood as multiple illnesses or subtypes that may stem from different causes and require different treatments.  read more

Stress at war and at home

Updated: 10:24 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009
Published: 10:21 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009

For some active-duty service members and veterans, the holidays aren’t about Christmas parties and gift giving. For them, the holidays can spark flare-ups of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and make adjusting after tours of Iraq and Afghanistan more difficult, mental health counselors in Central Texas say. Maxine Trent, a counselor and coordinator of the Homefront Project at Scott & White Healthcare’s Killeen clinic, said she has seen the stress emerge as thousands of soldiers from Fort Hood’s 1st Cavalry Division return in the midst of the holiday frenzy after a year in Iraq. “Families are extremely excited when they get their service member back, but service members most of the time are needing as much downtime as possible,” she said. “This is a busy time of year … but it usually takes six weeks or more for the body to reset itself after combat.”  Trent said she advises military families to try to manage their expectations during the holidays. She said soldiers need time and space as their neurobiology adjusts from combat to home life. Her advice during these weeks is a takeoff on an old Christmas song: “Let it go, let it go, let it go.”  “It’s a transitional time anyway, and putting the holidays on top of it, you might have enough stress to boil over,” she said. “Most families are real educated about the deployment cycle and recognize what to expect, but during the holidays, it can be easy to forget we’re doing reintegration on top of the holidays.”

Veterans and Shelter Animals Meet With Pets2Vets

By LINDA LOMBARDI For The Associated Press
WASHINGTON December 21, 2009 (AP)

Dave Sharpe was troubled by thoughts he couldn’t share after he returned from serving in Iraq. “I found myself waking up in the middle of the night, punching holes in walls, kicking and beating the refrigerator door,” he said.  Then one day, the former Air Force senior airman went with a friend to a local pit bull rescue and took home a puppy, Cheyenne. Next time he found himself kicking something, “I saw this puppy, cocking her head, looking up at me, like, what are you doing?”  Finally, Sharpe had someone he could open up to. “I froze, I put down my drink, I picked her up and laid with her in my bed,” he said. “I cried and I told her the whole story. I didn’t feel judged.”  The experience inspired Sharpe, of Arlington, Va., to start Pets2Vets, a group that pairs veterans with homeless pets by arranging adoptions of shelter animals. It has made two or three matches a week since its start in October. One of the goals of Pets2Vets is to raise awareness about post-traumatic stress disorder. Sharpe says that while a few groups provide veterans with service dogs, many PTSD and traumatic brain injury patients don’t qualify for these programs. Even when they do, because of the stigma still attached to psychological problems, they may hesitate to apply.

The Battle Inside

Justin Savage | December 14, 2009

Every day in the news we are bombarded with stories and pictures of operations that continue in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Yet despite the heavy media coverage of our troops in combat, a large piece of the picture is often overlooked.  Who’s watching after troops return, once we’re home, while we’re struggling or focused on trying to take the next natural steps in our lives? As it turns out, the battle isn’t over when we leave the battlefield. Many Veterans and active duty troops alike, struggle with the return to civilian life.  While problems can be mild and manageable–nothing more than a little difficulty getting back into the swing of things–in many cases they can be debilitating. Recent studies show that over a third of Veterans are diagnosed with a combat stress-related behavioral health issue like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or major depression. Of those diagnosed, nearly half won’t seek any help – and half of those that do seek help don’t receive adequate care. The consequences of untreated behavioral health problems like PTSD can be grave. Compared to civilians, veterans living with PTSD are two times more likely to divorce, three times more likely to be unemployed and four times more likely to commit suicide.  Deployment-related mental health issues are challenging to address from a warrior’s perspective and from the standpoint of those currently trying to solve this problem. Stigma is always a concern, and common symptoms like avoidance can keep returning troops from asking for help, or in some cases even leaving the house.  Among those who are able to overcome the initial hurdles to seeking care, many are ultimately thwarted by logistical concerns like long drives to the nearest Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital or justifying time away from job and family commitments.  And for those who can make it to a VA Hospital, they are often met with waiting rooms or waiting lists, keeping some months away from an appointment to see a mental health professional.  Veterans and the current system need new tools to meet the mental health epidemic among our troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.,15202,207493,00.html