Staff Perspective: Resources for Wounded Warriors

Staff Perspective: Resources for Wounded Warriors

Kelly Chrestman, Ph.D.

I like to be helpful. It’s one of the reasons I became a psychologist. You could say it’s my mission. Sometimes I get a phone call or an email from a distant relation, a friend, an acquaintance, or even a resourceful stranger who found my name on a website or blog. These people often have questions about psychotherapy.

What is most helpful for my problem?

Where should I seek help?

Who should I see?

How can I find the right therapist for me?

Sometimes the answers to those questions are easy. Maybe I have a colleague or contact in their area. If they are a Veteran or Service member, maybe I am familiar with services offered at their VA hospital, military treatment facility, or some other program in their city or town.

More often than I would like however, when it comes to a referral, I am stymied. I might act like a know-it-all sometimes but I really don’t know it all when it comes to the resources available in every little (or big) community. The best I can offer sometimes are breadcrumbs to aid them in their search. Often the breadcrumbs are in the form of websites.

There are some great websites out there for informing Veterans and Military Service Members about their options and linking them with treatment. The Veteran’s Administration website, the National Center for PTSD (NCPTSD) and Military One Source (OneSource) are the first that come to mind, but also on my hot list are the referral finders on the websites for the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS), and the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapy (ABCT). Unfortunately, some have already been to those links and either couldn’t find someone in their area who could offer what they need, or they have already tried what is available in their area and are looking for something else.

Recently I have learned about a couple of developments that will make this type of phone call a little less disappointing for me and for Veterans and Service members seeking help.

First is the Warrior Care Network®. This is a partnership between Wounded Warrior Project® and four national academic medical centers of excellence including Emory Healthcare, Massachusetts General Hospital, Rush University Medical Center, and UCLA Health. In cooperation with the Department of Veterans Affairs, this program will connect thousands of warriors with world-class care.

From their website:

Warrior Care Network® is a $100 million commitment to battle the invisible wounds of war by filling gaps in government care and reaching those who might otherwise go untreated. Wounded warriors will be connected with partner hospitals for evaluation and treatment options, enabling life changing PTSD help.

All treatment and related travel, lodging and meals are provided at no cost to Veterans and Service members. Essentially, this program will bring eligible Veterans and Service members to sites around the country for assessment and treatment of a variety of war related injuries including military related sexual assault, at no cost to the warrior. The program serves Post-9/11 Veterans (Served at least 1 day after Sep. 11th, 2001.) regardless of discharge status, so the program can help many Veterans who are ineligible for other programs. For those people who have not found what they need, or who live too far from their regional treatment center, this program provides a high-quality treatment option.

The second development is new evidence supporting the effectiveness of an evidence-based treatment for PTSD (big surprise I am talking about Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE) again!) offered in a novel way, making it more accessible to people who have a hard time committing to two-four months of weekly or twice weekly therapy for PTSD.

We have had case reports for a while now suggesting that PE offered in an intensive format can be effective for reducing PTSD symptoms (Blount et. al., 2014; Ehlers et. al., 2014). New data from treatment developer, Edna Foa, and the Strong Star Consortium will shortly be available showing that masses sessions over a two-week period are as effective as the standard protocol for PE.

A recent article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) highlights how this program and this intensive treatment format changed the life of Kyra Tracy Watkin, a Veteran of the war in Afghanistan and a wounded warrior. After her tour in Afghanistan with the Army Reserve and two tours as a civilian contractor defense analyst, Watkin found herself becoming depressed and eventually suicidal. She tried medications and psychotherapy through her local VA but felt these interventions weren’t helping. Then, through the Wounded Warrior Project, she heard about Emory University’s intensive two-week outpatient program for Veterans. She was able to travel to Atlanta and stay at no cost in a hotel across the street from the medical center. During her stay, she participated in a two-week intensive treatment program where, among other things, she received PE in an intensive protocol – nearly every day for the entire two weeks.

For Kyra Watkin, the experience was life changing. In the AJC article, she encourages other Veterans and Service members to consider the program if their needs are not being met elsewhere. She tells those who are reluctant to seek care, to think of PTSD treatment as “just a training program. We do so much training in the Army; I think that should just be added to it.”

For me, these developments get added to my list of resources. I still don’t have answers for every person who calls. I wish I did. But my list is growing and news like this makes it much easier to accomplish my mission.

The opinions in CDP Staff Perspective blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science or the Department of Defense.​

Kelly Chrestman, Ph.D., is is a licensed clinical psychologist working as the lead for online consultation services at the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.