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Friday, May 05, 2006

Congress Expected to Fund Waco VA PTSD Study

While full Veterans Administration funding for '07 still awaits approval in the House and Senate, yesterday brought good news for one veterans hospital that has for 3 years fought against possible closure. A congressional subcommittee has approved the continued funding (2nd year price tag: $3.5 million) of a PTSD study slated to get underway later this year at the Waco VA Hospital and Fort Hood.

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From the Waco Tribune-Herald:

Congress is preparing to spend $3.5 million next year funding a post-traumatic stress disorder study planned at the Waco Veterans Affairs Hospital and Fort Hood.

U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards said the project provides another reason to keep the embattled Waco VA Hospital operating and could help determine why the disorder devastates some soldiers and does not affect others. “This is one more arrow in our quiver to save the Waco VA,” Edwards said. “(VA Secretary Jim Nicholson) will still make the final decision, but he doesn’t make that decision in a vacuum. I’ve been very careful not to suggest that any one step would be the key, but it’s clear we’re making a very strong case.” ...

Because close to 20 percent of Iraq war combat veterans are reporting PTSD symptoms, Dr. Paul B. Hicks, with the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System, said the research is timely and pivotal.

If doctors find clues in genetics, brain imaging and psychological analysis of returning soldiers, they could improve treatment and prevention measures, said Hicks, the VA region’s acting medical director for mental health and behavioral medicine. “We don’t really know about all the biological and psychological underpinnings of PTSD, and if we can truly make some strides in understanding that, we have the potential to dramatically affect the outcome of soldiers who go through this,” he said. Fort Hood and the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System still are awaiting the initial funding for the project but have teamed up in other ways, Hicks said.

Veterans and community advocates who have fought efforts to close or downsize the Waco VA Hospital over the past three years hailed the proposed funding. “I really trust that this is yet one more good sign that perhaps the secretary will in short order be making a very positive announcement for Waco,” said Robert Gamboa, a veteran who has rallied support for the hospital.

Nicholson is evaluating the hospital and 16 others as part of a nationwide review and is expected to determine its fate later this year. The VA has considered downsizing or closing expensive older facilities in overserved communities, including the Waco VA Hospital, while increasing resources in cities where growing veterans’ populations are far from the nearest VA hospitals.

Last year U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, [R-TX], designated the Waco VA Hospital a mental health “center of excellence.”

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