To Treat PTSD, Veterans Have A Vast Array Of Ineffective Solutions

A new report by the Institute of Medicine rates the different treatments used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, also recommending areas for further research.

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A new study raises questions about the effectiveness of mental health care for veterans. Researchers found that neither the VA nor the Pentagon tracks the success of treatment for PTSD. The Pentagon sponsored this study, which was conducted by the Institute of Medicine. The results follow the scandal over waiting times at VA hospitals and they add a new layer to concerns about veterans' health care. Here's NPR's Quil Lawrence.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: The number of veterans seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder at the VA has more than doubled since 2003. That's veterans from all eras, but especially Iraq and Afghanistan vets. In a way, that's good news - it could mean the stigma of PTSD has faded.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You are not alone.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: You are not and never will be alone.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: You are not alone.

LAWRENCE: Vets share testimonial videos online with tough-as-nails combat troops admitting they needed to get help.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: I have PTSD.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: I have PTSD.

LAWRENCE: Problem is it's not clear how much that help is helping. The Pentagon and VA spent about $3.3 billion on PTSD in 2013, according to the study by the Institute of Medicine, which is part of the National Academy of Sciences. But Dr. Sondra Galea, who led the study, says no one is tracking the results.

DR. SONDRA GALEA: We do not know if there are effective and when programs are being used with questionable efficacy, no data are being collected that can tell us if they work, if they don't work or if - even if they're harmful.

LAWRENCE: Galea says the vast array for treatments for PTSD, which range from prescription drugs and group therapy to meditation and service dogs, are funded in an ad hoc crisis driven manner. One exception was the VA's intensive PTSD programs, which are tracking outcomes, but that includes only 1 percent of the half million vets in treatment. Galea says the VA and the Pentagon need to collect evidence and use it to plan for a coming wave of patients.

GALEA: We are seeing the potential for really hundreds of thousands of new cases of PTSD entering the system over the next few years. And one of our worries as a committee was that if we did not wrap our brains around this challenge right now, we are going to be discussing how we have fallen short in dealing with it 2, 3, 4 years from now.

LAWRENCE: The study urges both the Pentagon and the VA to hire more mental health professionals. Both departments have already been increasing medical staff, but not, the report says, enough to meet the demand. Quil Lawrence, NPR News.

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