Medical colleges work together to help military families suffering PTSD

Eduardo Casas struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder for years. The Vietnam veteran and former Marine remembers how certain events would trigger experiences he had as an 18-year-old in combat.

“It wouldn’t matter how much time had passed; 20, 30 years later, someone could say something, or you’d hear a certain sound, and it just takes you right back,” he said. “There are times now when things can trigger me and put me right back to things that happened in Vietnam. That is PTSD — intrusive thoughts come back at random times.”

After realizing that he had a problem, Casas sought PTSD help for himself and his family through the Veterans Affairs system. He needed help to control his temper and reactions he had due to his PTSD.

“I didn’t even know that is what it was until I began getting treated for it,” he said.

Casas’ story is not unique. And every day, more veterans join Casas in the struggle against PTSD. Therefore, the Association of American Medical Colleges and the White House’s Joining Forces initiative have collaborated to improve the health and wellness of not only military service members such as Casas, but their families as well.

As part of their commitment, participating medical schools have signed a pledge to enrich the medical education curriculum to ensure future physicians are equipped to treat the unique needs of the military and disseminate the most up-to-date information on conditions such as PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

More than 100 medical schools have already signed the pledge.

“With 137 medical colleges in the United States, we are happy with the level of participation,” said Anita Navarro, M.Ed., AAMC initiative coordinator.

Participating schools also pledge to educate their students and faculty on health and wellness issues for veterans through new research and clinical trials as well as collaborate with other institutions, agencies and health care providers to deliver the best care possible.

The colleges can access PTSD and TBI information, share their own ideas, or look for the most up-to-date information at the AAMC’s iCollaborative, an online resource.

Since the initiative was announced in January, the AAMC is looking at ways to improve the delivery of health care services and improve education about veteran-related issues such as PTSD and TBI.

“We recently surveyed the participating schools to see what parts of the initiative are working and ways we can improve our strategy,” Navarro said.

The findings of the report will be released in July.

“The schools have given us feedback, and we are planning a lot of new strategies,” Navarro said. “Curriculums take time to change, but we have a much greater awareness of these health issues and their nuances.”

Navarro said that the initiative has helped to raise awareness about the issues affecting military families.

“We have found a wide range of effort, so we are speaking from best practices that other schools can emulate,” she said. “We are on a positive track to improve what these medical colleges are doing.”

Casas says that focusing on the returning soldier’s needs is important, but the focus on the family is critical.

“These soldiers are coming back from war, and it might not hit them until a few months down the road,” he said. “And before you know it, the entire family is affected.”


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