Government Relations Update

With many of the military personnel who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq home or slated to return soon, the VA and community-based organizations must continue to work together to help them transition to civilian life, said APA members at a Feb. 27 congressional hearing of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health.

Two APA members, M. David Rudd, PhD, of the University of Utah's National Center for Veterans Studies, and George Ake III, PhD, of the Duke University Medical Center and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, testified at the invitation of Subcommittee Chair Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.).

Rudd highlighted ways in which the mental health community can collaborate with the faith-based community and with college and university campuses to support veterans. Evidence suggests that faith-based institutions can have an important role. A case in point: a 2011 Pew Research Center survey found that veterans who attend religious services at least once a week are more likely to have easy re-entry experiences than those who never attend services.

Colleges and universities can also help veterans readjust, said Rudd. In a nationwide survey of student veterans he conducted in 2011, Rudd found that 35 percent reported severe anxiety, 24 percent experienced severe depression and 46 percent reported significant symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

"With more returning service members taking advantage of the post-9/11 GI Bill, college campuses are a great setting for providing the mental health and academic supports necessary for successful reintegration," said Rudd. He said that there are several efforts under way aimed at helping veterans on campus, including VA-sponsored outreach projects. In addition, Rudd's National Center for Veterans Studies is launching a national higher education consortium focused on student veterans.

Ake highlighted the critical role family members can play in successfully reintegrating service members. He urged policymakers to consider the needs of the nearly 2 million children who have parents in the military, many of whom are dealing with multiple deployments, parental war injuries, grief, loss and other stresses. To help these families, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network is collaborating with the Department of Defense, the VA, the Department of Education, Sesame Workshop, Major League Baseball and other groups to provide trauma-informed evidence-based treatment, services and resources.

Dr. Diane Elmore is associate executive director and Taryn Patterson is a doctoral policy intern in APA's Public Interest Government Relations Office.