Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last dozen years have brought home to the American psychiatric community the scope and complexity of the mental health needs of combatants and veterans.
Attendees at this year’s annual meeting will have their choice of 45 sessions at which they can learn more about psychiatric care for military populations.
“This is our fourth year, and it will be better than ever,” said Military Track coordinator Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, M.D., M.P.H., chief medical officer of the District of Columbia Department of Behavioral Health and a retired U.S. Army psychiatrist.
Sessions in the scientific program’s Military Track are scheduled every day of the annual meeting.
One panel (“Walter Reed From 9/11 to Today”) will take the long view, examining how clinicians at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center responded over a dozen years to the mental health needs of service members. Their role grew as military health care moved beyond its focus on battlefield physical injuries to include traumatic brain injury, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suicide. Speakers will address the decade-long process of preventing and caring for psychiatric conditions through the deployment cycle, lessening stigma, and addressing the needs of troops with comorbid physical and psychological injuries. Another speaker will examine the role that the September 11 attack on the Pentagon played in increasing the awareness of senior military leaders about mental health issues among their troops.
Another notable aspect of the recent conflicts has been the inclusion of 223,000 military women, 11 percent of the forces deployed. Self-report surveys and medical utilization data show little difference between military men and women in rates of PTSD, even though rates for women are higher in the general population. So, one panel (“Female Military Psychiatrists at War”) will examine emerging mental health data on women at war and the experiences of women military psychiatrists working in combat zones.
“Consider this a session on how to practice therapy while the rockets are coming in,” said Ritchie in an interview.
Years of repeated deployments have also taken their toll on the families of service members, and one session (“Behavioral Health Implications of Parental Wartime Military Service for Military Children, Their Families, and the Treatment Community”) will be devoted to military children who are often deeply affected by the physical or psychological injuries incurred by a parent.
No discussion of the effects of combat would be complete without a discussion of PTSD, and at least eight sessions will go beyond the statistics to look at everything from forensic issues to treatment alternatives. One (“Controversies Abound Around PTSD”) will address current debates surrounding the disorder, including the argument over its designation as a “disorder” versus “injury” and will explore the possible unintended consequences of disability compensation.
Finally, several sessions will discuss the growing use and acceptance of complementary and alternative approaches for treating those who have experienced the stresses of combat.