• VA official sees innovations at Vt hospital
     | December 20,2013

    WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — A number of programs developed in Vermont to help veterans cope with post-traumatic stress disorder are now being used throughout the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital network.

    Some programs are also in use by civilian treatment providers, a top VA official said Thursday.

    The VA Medical Center in White River Junction, which treats veterans from Vermont and parts of New Hampshire, has also developed programs that help rural veterans who live far from the hospital, said VA Assistant Secretary Tommy Sowers after touring the hospital and the adjacent National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

    “I’ve seen a level of technology adoption here that I have not seen anywhere else,” Sowers said.

    He was given a demonstration of a locally developed app, called the PTSD Coach, which offers online tools to help users screen themselves for PTSD and provides techniques for dealing with stress.

    Sowers visited the inpatient substance abuse treatment area, where many of the patients are also suffering from PTSD, and other sections of the hospital that focus on traditional medical care for veterans.

    He also spoke via a telemedicine hookup with a veteran undergoing physical therapy in his home about two hours away from the hospital while he conducted exercises with a VA therapist.

    The PTSD Coach smartphone app has been downloaded more than 100,000 times in 78 countries since its release in 2011, and the PTSD Coach Online, released in September, had 25,000 page views in October, officials said.

    The center has surveyed veterans and active duty military personnel who have used the applications to see if they work.

    “The bottom line, in terms of outcomes, is we have found really nice, robust, positive effects,” said Barbara Hermann, the center’s associate director for research and education.

    Dr. E. Lanier Summerall, the psychiatrist in charge of the mental health and behavioral sciences section, said after meeting Sowers that even though the U.S. war in Iraq is over and the war in Afghanistan is winding down, many veterans are just beginning to seek services for PTSD.

    She even hears of difficult combat situations from different service members who experienced the same event, frequently as part of Vermont National Guard deployments.

    Vermont National Guard members experienced intense combat during a 2005-06 deployment to Ramadi, Iraq, or during a larger, more recent deployment to Afghanistan.

    “Sometimes it does take a couple of years for people to recognize that they can’t handle the difficulties they are experiencing by themselves,” Summerall said. “So actually we still see new veterans from those deployments every day.”

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