DANVILLE, PA -- Recently deployed National Guard members and Reservists have returned with a higher prevalence of PTSD, traumatic brain injury, depression and substance abuse compared to active duty soldiers, according to recent data. However, these service members return almost immediately to civilian life without mental health assessments or treatments for these conditions.
A new Geisinger study aims to identify specific genetic risk factors to determine which National Guard and Reservists are at a higher risk of developing these post-discharge conditions in an effort to provide better post-trauma treatment and therapy.
Led by Joseph Boscarino, Ph.D., M.P.H., senior scientist with the Geisinger Center for Health Research, with assistance from Geisinger doctors and researchers - including Thomas Urosevich, OD, MS, a recently deployed U.S. Army Reserve Officer - the study is the first to look at mental health and substance abuse risk factors in the National Guard and Reservists seen in non-Veterans Affairs healthcare facilities.
"Generally we've found that individuals with 'at risk' genes are more likely to develop PTSD, depression and substance abuse especially when associated with a higher exposure to traumatic events or greater exposure to childhood adversity," Boscarino explained.
The Pennsylvania National Guard, in particular, has seen over 35,000 deployments in support of the Global War on Terror. In addition to being one of the top ten employers in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania National Guard is one of the nation's largest Guard units, with armories and air bases in 90 Pennsylvania communities.
Boscarino advocates screening National Guard and Reservists for genetic factors and believes it may lead to better post-trauma treatments through genetic counseling. The study will leverage Geisinger's highly developed electronic health record (EHR) along with scores of in-depth, diagnostic interviews.
Boscarino leads a national team - including investigators at Kent State and Tulane universities - that has developed a highly successful tool for predicting PTSD following traumatic incidents. This team has been collaborating since the World Trade Center attacks in New York City in 2001, and has over 50 research publications.
"Until now, there hasn't been an easy-to-use tool to help clinicians rapidly identify PTSD in patients in routine practice or after a traumatic event," said Boscarino, a U.S. Army combat veteran himself. "We think we now have a basic tool that can quickly identify PTSD cases and facilitate appropriate therapy. I wish my generation of warfighters had these tools available when we returned from Vietnam. Because we didn't, that is why I have been pursuing this research for the past 35 years."
The study is funded through a Community Partners in Mental Health Research Award No. W81XWH-15-1-0506, by the Department of Defense, Defense Health Program, Psychological Health/Traumatic Brain Injury Research Program. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and may not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
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