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VA not Ready for Flood of Veterans with PTSD

National Institute of Medicine
National Institute of Medicine
National Institute of Medicine

The number of veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD has increased 325% since 2003, but in the past three years the VA’s research budget for PTSD has declined 7.8%.

So the VA scandal over fraudulent record keeping and gross time delays in scheduling patient visits isn’t the only scandal facing the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is one of the signature wounds of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the VA doesn’t seem to realize that.

After 13 years of war, we are experiencing dramatic growth in the number of troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq with PTSD.

Somebody in the VA isn’t paying attention.

In 2010, the National Defense Authorization Act required the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense to fund a study to assess their PTSD treatment and assessment programs.

A committee of 16 scientists from the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences spent four years studying the problem and published their startling results last June.

The committee found that the after veterans return from their combat zone deployments their readjustment to their families and their reintegration to society has been seriously hampered by PTSD.

According to the 300-page report, fewer than 200,000 Iraq and Afghan war veterans were diagnosed with combat-related PTSD in 2003. But last year that number increased to more than 650,000 veterans.

The report states, “Although these numbers are likely to underestimate the incidence and prevalence of PTSD, they demonstrate that action is needed to respond to this growing problem.”

“Demands for Post Traumatic Disorder services among service members and veterans are at unprecedented levels and are climbing.”

Because almost 2.5 million veterans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Sandro Galea, the chairman of the committee, says that-, “We are at the cusp of a wave of PTSD.”

The VA is the largest integrated health care system in the United States, and nearly 9 million veterans are enrolled seeking care. But Galea says, “We still do not have a PTSD system that is delivering high-quality care for all service members and veterans.”

The report amplifies that statement by stating that, “To deliver high-value health care, an organization must be able to determine patient outcomes.” However, the VA doesn’t do that very well.

The report found that the VA has no systematic way of tracking whether veterans improve after receiving treatment.

The report also found that communication is extremely poor between the Department of Defense staff responsible for PTSD treatments and the VA staff responsible for PTSD treatments.

This is one obvious reason why VA funding for PTSD has decreased while the number of cases of PTSD among Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans has been climbing exponentially.

It’s time for the VA to get its act together.