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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Combat and PTSD: Study Gets Underway at Waco VAMC

From the Times-Herald:

After more than a year of waiting for funding, researchers at the Waco VA Medical Center will soon be able to get to work studying the minds of soldiers stricken with post-traumatic stress disorder to develop breakthrough treatments. Legislation that included $3 million to fund the study was signed into law in December 2005, but it’s taken a year for officials to formalize the plan. When the final paperwork was signed Tuesday, it set in motion the beginnings of the Veterans Affairs hospital’s expansion as a national center specializing in mental health care.

The study, to be supervised by Dr. Keith Young, will focus on whether genes and brain anatomy play a role in the root causes of PTSD and related stress disorders. The research begins in the wake of Pentagon studies that predict as many as one in six military personnel returning from Iraq may suffer from PTSD because of constant exposure to widespread violence. “We’re one of the few places in the country actually trying to understand the root cause of (PTSD),” Young said. “It’s trying to understand the brain changes that make people susceptible to PTSD and depression.”

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Young, a faculty member of the Texas A&M University College of Medicine in Temple, has spent the past four years designing the study. In spring 2005, he pitched the study to U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, who secured $3 million to fund it as part of a 2006 defense bill. Edwards said the arrival of funding for the Waco VA study marks an important step in making the hospital a world-class PTSD and mental health care research center.

Although the study itself has significance, of course, the first thing that comes to mind is an unease about the 'genetic' component; will it eventually lead to the position that combat veterans were predisposed to PTSD by genetics, and therefore ineligible for coverage? This is one of those fine line areas: important to study that aspect, but dangerous if it will be used to deny benefits to our returning troops.

That said, I'm very pleased to see such a combat PTSD specialty-care VAMC come into being. It will do much good for those who are returning with deployment-related stressors. Kudos to Dr. Keith Young for his persistance and success in getting this program up-and-running.

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