Thursday, May 15, 2008

We owe veterans best effort in analyzing ‘PTSD’

We owe veterans best effort in analyzing ‘PTSD’

Soldiers returning from the current battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from an age-old problem that is manifesting itself in new ways.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), research shows, is often overlooked by primary care physicians or community clinics when veterans aren’t there for a PTSD-specific complaint.

That was among the revelations at an important day-long conference Tuesday at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville. The goal of this significant gathering was to develop a partnership between regional health-care workers and the Veterans Health Administration to help those with PTSD.

It won’t be easy.

One of the panel members, a native of Korea, told a story about his father, who spent three years at the front lines in the Korean War. His family never understood the resulting decades of mood swings and nightmares — which continue today. Only when his son began his study of psychiatry did he understand why his father has had to endure such pain for more than a half-century: He suffered from PTSD.

Non-military primary care physicians need to become more versed in the particulars of PTSD, Tuesday’s conference revealed, especially those doctors in rural areas, where 44 percent of U.S. military recruits are found, but where only 19 percent of the nation lives, an unbalance that exacerbates the problem. They need to know how to screen for and recognize PTSD and increase their clinical knowledge and skills on the disorder. And physicians should be familiar with local and regional mental-health treatment and referral resources.

There is encouragement in the fact that, while less than 3 percent of servicemen were married during World War II, 53 percent of those serving today are married, and many have children. With continued public acknowledgment of PTSD as a real problem, these spouses and children can do something to help their loved ones now — unlike our story of the Korean veteran.

The misunderstandings and stigma of PTSD conjure up painful memories of Gulf War Syndrome, the name attached to a condition that plagued many soldiers following the first Gulf War — including soldiers from Northumberland County — that went unaddressed for far too long. With that, it’s encouraging to see Geisinger, the VA and other leaders in the health-care field ambitiously addressing PTSD. We owe it to every veteran to do so.

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