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SA-based study to look at post-traumatic stress
March 21, 2008

Cindy Tumiel Express-News

All the training in the world can't get soldiers ready to witness the carnage of a car bomb blast, spewing wreckage and shrapnel with explosive force that maims and kills.

The memories of death and destruction linger, and disturbing images of human suffering can wreak havoc with soldiers as they try to live normal lives. Post-traumatic stress can lead to isolation, disrupted sleep, anxiety and irrational fears that interfere with jobs and family relationships.

A new study with headquarters in San Antonio will spend the next five years investigating the best ways of detecting and treating post-traumatic stress disorder in active duty personnel and soldiers who recently have been discharged.

The $33 million project will be led by the University of Texas Health Science Center and will involve military and civilian researchers from across Texas. It will be open to soldiers serving or being treated at Texas military installations, including Fort Sam Houston, Fort Hood, Wilford Hall Medical Center, Brooke Army Medical Center and Veterans Administration Facilities.

Few studies have been done looking at the best way to treat war Veterans and active duty personnel, said Alan Peterson, a health science center Professor and retired Air Force psychologist.

"They see things that no human should have to see," said Peterson, the lead scientist in the new study. "And when they see these things, it's hard to get them out of their heads. The standard reaction is to just put it behind you and press on, but in many cases that doesn't work well."

The grant comes from a Defense Department initiative, approved by Congress last year, that allocated $450 million to study post-traumatic stress among soldiers serving in Iraq.

Estimates are that 5 to 17 percent of Iraq veterans have some symptoms. But as many as 30 percent of injured soldiers suffer from post-traumatic stress, said Col. John Holcomb, a trauma surgeon and commander of the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research, which has its headquarters at Fort Sam Houston. Medical personnel who must respond to the carnage also are at risk.

"My folks have gone and come back six or seven times, and everybody comes back changed in one way or the other," Holcomb said. "This is an extremely large grant in an area that has been under-studied."

The study will evaluate the current forms of the standard treatment, called exposure therapy, which exposes people to memories they try to avoid and gets them accustomed to dealing with them. Other elements of the study will look at neuroimaging to observe brain changes and genetic studies to identify genes that make some people more at risk for the disorder. Doctors also will evaluate the use of various medications.

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