PTSD is Hard to Cure Says Prominent Medical Journal

Posted on Sep 08, 2015

Medical researchers argue that veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder need “broader, more personalized approaches to care”.  Current PTSD treatments are effective in some patients, but not others, they say.  In a recent article published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) researchers from the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Center Post-Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury—a program in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center found “there is a pressing need for innovation in treatments for PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI)

“The emotional effects of war are gaining attention," says Charles R. Marmar, an M.D. at Langone and director of its Cohen Veterans Center, and the senior author of the JAMA study. "And there are veterans from all wars who are struggling, not just those who most recently served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."  Another recent study estimates that there are more than 270,000 Vietnam veterans still suffering from PTSD today, more than 40 years since that war ended.

The researchers scrutinized two common treatments for PTSD: cognitive processing therapy (CPT) and prolonged exposure (PE) therapy. "Our findings showed that PE and CPT are not as broadly effective as we might have once thought or hoped," says Maria M. Steenkamp, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone and lead author of the study. "As many as two-thirds of veterans receiving CPT or PE keep their PTSD diagnosis after treatment, even if their symptoms improve. So there is room for improvement."

After the traumatic and life-threatening conditions of military combat, some military veterans have reactions ranging from severe nightmares and flashbacks to insomnia and increasing social isolation. In the past, PTSD was called shell shock or battle fatigue. PTSD is a form of anxiety disorder. But unlike other anxiety disorders, PTSD can occur a long time after the traumatic event has occurred. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that PTSD afflicts:

  • Almost 31 percent of Vietnam veterans
  • As many as 10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans
  • 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan
  • 20 percent of Iraqi war veterans

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Sean D. Cuddigan
SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska