Study: PTSD Treatment For Soldiers Improving, But There’s Still Work To Be Done

When it comes to diagnosing and treating posttraumatic stress disorder among soldiers returning from service in Afghanistan, Iraq and other modern battle theaters, the Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense still have a long way to go to meet the needs of armed service members, according to a new Institute of Medicine study.

In a report released Friday and based on the first phase of a two-part study, the IOM called for more screening and better assessments of PTSD cases – suggesting that screening be done at least once a year when primary care providers see service members. It also recommends that the VA build on these early identification efforts by improving soldiers’ timely access to evidence-based care.  In addition, the VA should invest in research regarding telemedicine, Internet-based approaches and other technological advances that could help patients overcome barriers to getting help. Also, military health care providers should take steps to coordinate treatment for PTSD with other health conditions that affect these service members and veterans.

The study estimated that PTSD, which is often triggered by traumatic events that are commonplace in combat life, affects somewhere between 13 to 20 percent of the 2.6 million soldiers who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001. Of those veterans diagnosed with PTSD, 50 percent also show signs of other related conditions, such as depressive symptoms and substance abuse. The absence of support from society and loved ones can increase the risk. In 2010, the VA treated more than 430,000 veterans with the disorder.

The IOM’s research grew out of congressional concern about the incidence of PTSD among returning soldiers. Congress directed the VA and Defense Department to support the project in the FY 2010 National Defense Authorization Act.

In the first phase, the IOM researchers conducted site visits and reviewed available information, but did not look at original data, like the number of soldiers who relapsed after receiving treatment, according to Dr. Sandro Galea, the IOM panel’s chair.

Findings from the study’s second phase, which are scheduled for release in 2014, will involve “examining databases of funding organizations to make systematic assessments of new treatments coming up the pipeline,” said Galea.