The New York State Capital District Branch has launched a series of free
seminars aimed at helping the region's mental health community improve care
for members of the armed forces who return to the region after serving in Iraq
The first lecture in the series was September 24 and featured Matthew
Friedman, M.D., director of the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress
Disorder. He discussed crucial issues that confront men and women returning
from a war zone.
The second talk was delivered in November by Col. Chris Williams, senior
executive director for traumatic brain injury at the Department of Defense's
Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.
Two sessions remain in the series, one to be held on January 28 and the
other on March 25. The presentation in January will cover Department of
Veterans Affairs' services for returning combat veterans and assessments of
fitness for return to duty.
The March program will look at challenges facing military families.
Scheduled speakers are the director of family programs for the New York State
National Guard and two social workers from the posttraumatic stress disorder
(PTSD) program at Albany Medical Center.
The first two programs were limited to psychiatrists and mental health
professionals, but the remaining two are also open to veterans and their
From left: Anna Engel M.D., president of the N.Y. State Capital District
Branch, and Vicki Balkowski, M.D., chair of the Department of Psychiatry at
Albany Medical Center, helped organize the DB's seminar series on mental
health among returning combat veterans. Speakers included Greg Miller, M.D.,
and Col. Chris Williams.
Civilian mental health clinicians are needed to ensure that all troops who
need help can get it, emphasized Anna Engel, M.D., president of the district
branch, whose members are in the Albany area.
"The sessions are open not only to psychiatrists but also to
psychologists, social workers, those who work with the homeless, and students
in any of these fields," she said in an interview.
More than 100 people attended the first lecture in September, including
psychiatry residents from Albany Medical Center, where the program is based.
Vicki Balkowski, M.D., chief of psychiatry at that hospital, has included the
lecture series among training options at the facility, said Engel.
"The war is no longer on the front page, and veterans' issues have
gotten pushed to the side, especially now that people are more concerned with
the financial crisis," said Engel.
Civilians need help understanding not only the diagnosis and treatment of
PTSD and other disorders related to combat trauma, but also the range of care
options available from the VA and military health systems.
"Often, the only information providers get is from the vets
themselves, and that isn't always accurate," said Engel. "We also
want to move professionals away from the stereotype of the VA as solely
involved in chronic care, rather than the acute needs of younger people who we
are now seeing."
Engel hopes that the lecture series will be a concrete demonstration that
psychiatrists are involved and are providing advocacy and help to the
surrounding community. The district branch also hopes to record the
proceedings to share with other branches around the country, she said.
More information is available by sending an e-mail to