APA member briefs Capitol Hill staff on veterans' mental health research
“VA Mental Health Research: Improving the Lives of America’s Veterans” was the theme of a Capitol Hill briefing on July 24 hosted by the American Psychological Association and the Friends of VA Medical Care and Health Research (FOVA) coalition. The House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing room was packed with congressional and federal agency staff interested in the latest results of research funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The APA-sponsored speaker was APA member John McQuaid, PhD, associate chief of mental health at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and professor of clinical psychology at the University of California, San Francisco.
McQuaid provided an overview of his own research on cognitive behavioral therapies for depression, PTSD, substance use and phantom limb pain, as well as the broad range of clinical research related to mental health going on at the San Francisco VA and its direct impact on clinical care for veterans. Capitol Hill and executive branch staff were particularly focused on how the VA is addressing access to mental health care, the range of evidence-based therapies available, suicide prevention, continuity of care between and within Department of Defense (DoD) and VA systems, and partnerships with community organizations to expand options for veterans. Critical for this audience was McQuaid's emphasis on the vital role of research in assuring quality mental health care in the areas of prevention and intervention.
FOVA sponsored a second speaker, Daniel Gottlieb, MD, MPH, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the VA Boston Healthcare System as well as associate professor of medicine and associate program director of the General Clinical Research Center at Boston University School of Medicine. Gottlieb's research and clinical work focus on the epidemiology of obstructive sleep apnea/hypopnea and sleep deprivation, and he presented his current VA-funded studies of treatments for veterans with sleep disorders. McQuaid and Gottlieb also discussed the frequent co-occurrence of both physical and mental health issues with sleep disorders in the veteran population, and both noted that in their clinical experience it is important to be aware of the bidirectional relationship of sleep problems with other disorders when treating veterans.
In the week following the briefing, there was significant interest in new data coming out of the DoD-funded Millennium Cohort Study showing that military-specific and deployment factors were not found to be related to death by suicide among military personnel, whereas demographic and mental health factors were associated with heightened risk for suicide. (See the online JAMA article). McQuaid, who also chairs APA's Clinical Practice Guideline Development Panel for Depressive Disorders, noted that, "We have known for a long time that suicide and suicidal behaviors are multiply determined, and these results emphasize the importance of intervention for associated problems such as depression, substance use and relationship conflict. These problems are treatable, and treatment reduces risk of suicide. These findings also emphasize the importance of research in contrast to anecdotal information. While there are very salient and distressing examples of combat veterans committing suicide, we also need to pay attention to non-combat veterans at risk for suicide, as well as combat and non-combat veterans who are not at risk (the vast majority of both groups), to understand what differentiates veterans at risk from those who are not."
More information on FOVA initiatives, events and member organizations may be found online. For more information on this issue contact Heather O’Beirne Kelly.