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Association News
DB Outreach Focuses on Vets' MH Issues
Psychiatric News
Volume 43 Number 23 page 33-35

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 or Afghanistan.

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 families.FIG1

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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 DB28APA@gmail.com.

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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. 

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