January 12, 2012 (Military.com) – Speaking Wednesday to an auditorium packed with camouflage-clad soldiers and medical students in white lab coats, first lady Michelle Obama announced a new initiative to help doctors better identify, understand and treat the invisible wounds of war: post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and post-combat depression.
The effort involves a commitment by 130 medical schools and universities throughout the country to do research, share information and train current and future physicians on the disorders, often called the signature wounds of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among those participating are Richmond’s Virginia Commonwealth University, the site of the first lady’s announcement, and Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk. There is no new federal funding involved.
While most soldiers return from war without significant mental health issues, about one in six develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress, Obama said. And though most Americans try to understand, stigma remains, she said.
“Those of us who have never experienced war will never be able to fully understand the true emotional costs,” she said. “PTSD, TBI, depression and any other combat-related mental health issue should never again be a source of shame.”
While the military has support systems and personnel trained in combat-related mental health issues, more than half of veterans seek treatment in their hometowns, outside the military and the Department of Veterans Affairs, Obama said. The new effort aims at ensuring civilian doctors have access to information on those issues.
The goal is to help soldiers like Army Spc. Cedric Mark Holland, who spoke of the headaches, sleeplessness and guilt he suffered with after losing comrades in a 2009 IED explosion in Afghanistan.
“All service members have suffered these emotions,” he said. “All of us go through the pain and the guilt.”
Through the new collaboration, which includes a website hosted by the Association of American Medical Colleges, EVMS will share the results of its research into treating post-traumatic stress using magnetic stimulation, said Dr. Richard V. Homan, the school’s provost and dean.
“I think it’s probably disproportionately important in the Hampton Roads area,” he said, “since we have such a large population of veterans in the region that have had combat experience.”
Sgt. 1st Class Shernell Higgs from Fort Lee has served three tours in Iraq and is preparing for her first in Afghanistan. She said she found the announcement encouraging.
“It’s good to know that the White House and of course the president and Mrs. Obama are taking such an interest in the troops and PTSD,” she said. “A lot of us feel the stress of war and the loss of a comrade.”