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Workshop Addresses Challenges Facing Psychologically Wounded Warriors

May. 24, 2011

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"Promising Practices" Lives Up to Its Name by Offering Hope and Resources for Providers Who Treat and Support Those with TBI, PTSD

 

 

FAIRFAX, Va. - Nearly 100 attendees from across multiple disciplines gathered at George Mason University outside the nation's capital in Fairfax, Va., last week to learn about how they can better treat and manage the psychological trauma of service members and veterans.

 

In its second year, the workshop "Promising Practices for Healing Psychological Trauma of Service Members, Veterans, Family, and Community" was aimed at strengthening the health care community's response to the needs of returning military personnel and their families in order to heal psychological issues, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), sustained in combat. The one-day symposium was co-hosted by Mason's College of Health and Human Services (CHHS) and the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program.

 

A recent report indicates that U.S. troops are suffering the highest rates of mental health problems since 2005. According to a 2008 report conducted by the RAND Corporation, nearly a third of service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are affected by PTSD, TBI, or major depression, making this a timely issue that affects millions in the United States.

 

"The event's success was largely due to its emphasis on improving access to quality care by creating a well-trained professional workforce," said Cathleen Lewandowski, chair of the Social Work Department in CHHS and one of the organizers of the workshop. "It contributed to the dissemination of promising practices to treat PTSD and TBI, and provided participants a unique opportunity to hear from nationally recognized providers and researchers. Continuity of care was stressed through a model for interdisciplinary care and by creating networking opportunities for civilian and military providers."

 

From groundbreaking new ways to treat PTSD and TBI to how to navigate the complex Veterans Affairs (VA) system, the workshop also offered solutions, resources, and hope for those who help psychologically wounded service members and veterans.

 

Many of the speakers alluded to the difficulties in diagnosing psychological health issues in service members returning from combat. Since injuries are sustained in battle, many patients cannot provide medical professionals with complete or accurate patient histories. Psychological conditions, such as TBI and PTSD, also have a broad range of symptoms-they may even present as back or other body pain. Other service members and veterans self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, which also makes diagnoses difficult.

 

Dr. Marilyn Kraus, medical director of the Neurobehaviorial/Traumatic Brain Injury Service at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., said "A careful clinical interview is considered essential to establishing a diagnosis of TBI, particularly in the absence of clinical or other witnesses. In practice this can be very challenging."

 

Dr. Tom DeGraba, deputy director of the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, in Bethesda, Md., also spoke about the particular challenges of treating those with both PTSD and TBI.

 

Other sessions focused on state-of-the-art therapies for treating PTSD and TBI. Dennis Wood and Dr. Mark Wiederhold gave a presentation of the virtual reality treatment they use, called graded exposure therapy, at the Virtual Reality Medical Center in San Diego, Calif. Belleruth Naparstek, a licensed social worker, also spoke about using guided imagery in treating traumatic stress.

 

A panel discussion focused on the personal experiences of wounded veterans and their family members and how they coped with healing psychological conditions. Retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Tim Maxwell and his wife, Shannon Maxwell, who run Sempermax, an organization devoted to working with wounded warriors, took part in the panel. After suffering a severe penetrating TBI in Iraq in 2004, Maxwell was instrumental in establishing the Marine Wounded Warrior Program.

 

Shannon Maxwell stressed the importance of group healing for those with PTSD and TBI. While Tim Maxwell acts as a mentor to other wounded service members, Shannon wrote a children's book, "Our Daddy Is Invincible," which aims to explain traumatic injuries to the children of service members and veterans in a hopeful and uplifting way.

 

But once a diagnosis and treatment plan of psychological trauma is made, there is more work to be done. Other sessions, including speaker Lolita O'Donnell at the Defense Centers of Excellence and a panel discussion led by Karen Brown at Brain Injury Services, concentrated on sharing information about how wounded warriors can qualify for different treatment programs, as well as other available resources.

 

Lewandowski plans to hold another workshop next spring to continue to bring together different health care providers to address the difficulties facing our service members and veterans suffering from psychological trauma. Additional information can be found at the website for the Department of Social Work at http://chhs.gmu.edu/sw/index.


About George Mason University


George Mason University is an innovative, entrepreneurial institution with global distinction in a range of academic fields. Located in Northern Virginia near Washington, D.C., Mason provides students access to diverse cultural experiences and the most sought-after internships and employers in the country. Mason offers strong undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering and information technology, organizational psychology, health care and visual and performing arts. With Mason professors conducting groundbreaking research in areas such as climate change, public policy and the biosciences, George Mason University is a leading example of the modern, public university.

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