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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Fort Bliss PTSD Recovery Center Aims to Return Troops Quickly to Battle

Editor's Note: Please scroll down to the 'Related Posts' section below for more in-depth coverage of this issue. -- Ilona Meagher

From the El Paso Times:

On Wednesday, officials will dedicate the Fort Bliss Restoration and Resilience Center, which will employ a holistic treatment approach including everything from meditation to medication. The center's first-year goal is to bring approximately 200 soldiers with PTSD back to "battle-readiness."

"We have every hope we will help these soldiers get back to fighting strength," said John Fortunato, head of the R&R center. "The soldiers who become disabled to the point they can't function are few."

However, there is an intensive screening process to try to make sure the soldiers chosen for the program are not just going to be reopening old wounds if they are sent back. "If they were going to come back from a tour in even worse shape, we wouldn't do it," Fortunato said

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Recent research has shown that maintaining the alertness required to survive a tour in Iraq for months at a time creates physical changes in the brain, Fortunato said. The "fight-or-flight" center enlarges and the more contemplative, decision-making part of the brain shrinks. ...

The center -- which required a $549,000 renovation of a World War II-era building and $150,000 in equipment -- will use a nine-month program starting with a 35-hour-a-week routine that includes individual and group psychotherapy, movement therapy, a nutrition program and more, Fortunato said. Also included will be a spiritual component. "War raises all the questions about life and death," he said. "Like, 'Who is God and who would allow all this carnage?'"

Other elements include drug and alcohol treatment, massage, acupuncture, chiropractic, yoga, tai chi, biofeedback that trains a person to calm themselves, and more. Of the meditation room, he said, "I don't think you will find another one of these in the Department of Defense."

El Paso veterans advocate Ron Holmes said the center is "long overdue." "Why aren't they implementing it everywhere?" he asked. "Circumstances are a lot different than they used to be and we need to do everything we can to help these guys out." Innovations that prove effective eventually will be used throughout the Army, Powell said. "All of these services are being offered under a research program," Fortunato said. "A lot of this is going to evolve."

Although money is not the prime concern, Fortunato said, the program is cost effective. He said the nation loses nearly $1 million in training, future disability payments and other costs when a soldier is medically discharged. And he added that much of the stigma of PTSD -- once called "shell shock" and ignored for the most part -- has diminished as soldiers are reporting symptoms in greater numbers.

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