Texas Combat PTSD Risk Project Focuses On Soldier Stress
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been found to effect one in six returning veterans from the Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) campaigns. It is currently estimated that 100,000 to 300,000 OIF/OEF veterans are at significant risk for developing chronic PTSD.
PTSD is caused by exposure to traumatic stress. Men and women in war zones see and experience things that no one should have to see or endure. War can’t be sanitized, so how do we lessen the risk of PTSD and it’s lingering effects on the individual, family, and society?
Research in civilians with non-combat-related Posttraumatic stress disorder (e.g., rape or motor vehicle accidents) has shown that most can be treated successfully with a type of counseling called "exposure therapy" and their symptom reductions are large and fairly permanent. This has been found to be difficult in veterans. Take the Vietnam veterans who were often not diagnosed and, therefore, not treated until years after discharge from active duty. “Exposure therapy” has not worked as well with this group.
The STRONG STAR Research Consortium centered in San Antonio, Texas is trying to answer many of the questions related to Posttraumatic stress disorder. One of the projects focuses on risk, seeking to uncover the mechanisms underlying PTSD, assessing soldiers not only after their return from the battlefield but also before and during their deployment provides a unique opportunity for prospective research.
That project is the Texas Combat PTSD Risk Project. It began in 2007, taking a sample of soldiers (183) from Ft. Hood who spent a day at the imaging center at University of Texas, undergoing a range of assessments (genetic, neuroimaging, psychological, cognitive, and hormonal response to stress challenge) prior to their first yearlong deployment to Iraq. Each soldier then filled out a monthly “stress log” via the Internet while deployed.
The result is one of the more comprehensive studies to search for risk factors for the illness, which, along with traumatic brain injury, military leaders call the signature disease of the current conflicts. Lead investigator Michael Telch, a UT professor of psychology and the director of UT's Laboratory for the Study of Anxiety Disorders, has said the research could lead to prevention programs for PTSD.
Some of their early results were presented earlier this year at the Association of Psychological Science Convention in San Francisco in May. During that meeting Telch described the work of his student Han-joo Lee, developing a Web-based “in-theater” assessment system to deal with this which has given the researchers a “a wealth of data on the soldiers’ experiences while they are in Iraq.”
The researchers point out that although it's too early to draw definitive conclusions, preliminary evidence points to some possible risk factors for the disorder, including a history of psychological problems.
It is hoped that the study's results will be able to be used to prepare soldiers to withstand Posttraumatic stress disorder and make their superiors more aware of who is at higher risk of developing it.
UT Health Science Center
Association of Psychological Science