Ceremonial PTSD therapies favored by Native American veterans

Native American veterans battling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder find relief and healing through an alternative treatment called the Sweat Lodge ceremony offered at the Spokane Veterans Administration Hospital.In the Arizona desert, wounded warriors from the Hopi Nation can join in a ceremony called Wiping Away the Tears. The traditional cleansing ritual helps dispel a chronic “ghost sickness” that can haunt survivors of battle.These and other traditional healing therapies are the treatment of choice for many Native American veterans, — half of whom say usual PTSD treatments don’t work — according to a recent survey conducted at Washington State University. The findings will be presented at the American Psychological Association conference in Washington D.C. this August.The study is available online at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/nativeveterans.Led by Greg Urquhart and Matthew Hale, both Native veterans and graduate students in the College of Education, the ongoing study examines the attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs of Native American veterans concerning PTSD and its various treatment options. Their goal is to give Native veterans a voice in shaping the types of therapies available in future programs.”Across the board, Native vets don’t feel represented. Their voices have been silenced and ignored for so long that they were happy to provide feedback on our survey,” said Hale.Historically, Native Americans have served in the military at higher rates than all other U.S. populations. Veterans are traditionally honored as warriors and esteemed in the tribal community.A 2012 report by the Department of Veterans Affairs showed that the percentage of Native veterans under age 65 outnumbers similar percentages for veterans of all other racial groups combined.The WSU survey provides a first-hand look at the veterans’ needs, but more importantly, reveals the unique preferences they have as Native American veterans, said Phyllis Erdman, executive associate dean for academic affairs at the college and mentor for the study.Cultural worldviewUrquhart said many Native veterans are reluctant to seek treatment for PTSD because typical western therapy options don’t represent the Native cultural worldview.”The traditional Native view of health and spirituality is intertwined,” he explained. “Spirit, mind, and body are all one — you can’t parcel one out from the other — so spirituality is a huge component of healing and one not often included in western medicine, although there have been a few studies on the positive effects of prayer.”For many years, the U.S. government banned Native religious ceremonies, which subsequently limited their use in PTSD programs, said Urquhart. …

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Access to social workers could keep veterans out of criminal justice system, researchers find

Approximately one in six veterans struggles with substance abuse, and 20 percent show signs of mental health issues or cognitive impairments, previous research has shown. These risk factors, combined with a lack of resources, could be contributing to an increase of veterans entering the criminal justice system, according to a report by the Center for Mental Health Services. Now, University of Missouri researchers have investigated ways social workers can address veterans’ needs and keep them out of jail.”Social workers are equipped to provide support to veterans through research, education, outreach and advocacy, which allows social workers to connect veterans with helpful resources rather than criminalizing them,” said Kelli Canada, assistant professor at the MU School of Social Work.According to Canada, social workers play key roles in veteran treatment courts that operate much like existing drug treatment and mental health courts, in which interdisciplinary teams address substance use, mental health concerns and legal issues. Rather than serving jail sentences for non-violent crimes, veterans are connected with teams that include social workers who are trained to assess individuals’ needs in the context of diverse environments. The social workers then work with veterans to develop multifaceted treatment plans tailored to their individual needs.”Veterans may be entering the criminal justice system for different reasons than the general public,” Canada said. “Barriers that prevent help-seeking, such as stigmas and lack of access to resources, may contribute to veterans being arrested. Social workers have the ability to recreate the narrative surrounding mental health and veterans in the criminal justice system and help to ensure that veterans get the assistance they need.”MU offers a military social work graduate certificate through the School of Social Work, which is housed in the College of Human Environmental Sciences. The certificate teaches strategies for working with military personnel and families and is available to graduate students and current social work practitioners with both online and on-campus options. The School of Social Work also houses the Center for Education and Research for Veterans and Military Families (CERV), which provides training to a variety of professionals on topics that address the particular needs of veterans and their families. Both the certificate and CERV are coordinated by David Albright, an assistant professor of social work at MU.”Social workers are often unaware of the many ways they can help veterans, so training centered around veterans’ issues is very important,” Canada said.The University of Missouri also provides support to veterans through the nationally-recognized MU Veterans Center, which connects military students, employees and families with resources. …

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Stress test and brain scans pinpoint two distinct forms of Gulf War illness

June 14, 2013 — Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center say their new work suggests that Gulf War illness may have two distinct forms depending on which brain regions have atrophied. Their study of Gulf War veterans, published online today in PLOS ONE, may help explain why clinicians have consistently encountered veterans with different symptoms and complaints.Using brain imaging that was acquired before and after exercise tests, the researchers studied the effects of physical stress on the veterans and controls. Following exercise, subgroups were evident. In 18 veterans, they found that pain levels increased after completion of the exercise stress tests exercised; fMRI scans in these participants showed loss of brain matter in adjacent regions associated with pain regulation.During cognitive tasks, this group showed an increased use of the basal ganglia — a potential compensatory strategy the brain uses that is also seen in neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Following exercise, this group lost the ability to employ their basal ganglia, suggesting an adverse response to a physiological stressor.In addition, “a separate group of 10 veterans had a very different clinical alteration,” says lead author Rakib Rayhan, a researcher in the lab of the study’s senior investigator, James Baraniuk, MD, a professor of medicine at GUMC.In these 10 veterans, the researchers found substantial increases in heart rate. They also discovered that this subgroup had atrophy in the brain stem, which regulates heart rate. .In addition, brain scans during a cognitive task performed prior to exercise showed increased compensatory use of the cerebellum, again a trait seen in neurodegenerative disorders. Like the other group, this cohort lost the ability to use this compensatory area after exercise.Alterations in cognition, brain structure and exercise-induced symptoms found in the veterans were absent in the 10-participant matched control group, the researchers say.”The use of other brain areas to compensate for a damaged area is seen in other disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, which is why we believe our data show that these veterans are suffering from central nervous system dysfunction,” Rayhan explains. He adds, however, that because such changes are similar to other neurodegenerative states, it doesn’t mean that veterans will progress to Alzheimer’s or other diseases.These findings — a surprise to researchers — follow a study in Gulf War veterans published in March in PLOS ONE that reported abnormalities in the bundle of nerve fibers connecting the brain areas involved in the processing and perception of pain and fatigue.Gulf War Illness is the mysterious malady believed to have affected more than 200,000 military personnel who served in the 1990-1991 Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.Although veterans were exposed to nerve agents, pesticides and herbicides (among other toxic chemicals), no one has definitively linked any single exposure or underlying mechanism to Gulf War illness.The symptoms of Gulf War illness — which have not been widely accepted by the public or medical professionals — range from mild to debilitating and can include widespread pain, fatigue and headache, as well as cognitive and gastrointestinal dysfunctions.”Our findings help explain and validate what these veterans have long said about their illness,” Rayhan says.Support for the study was provided by a Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program award (W81-XWH-09-1-0526) and federal funds (grant # UL1TR000101, previously UL1RR031975) from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health, through the Clinical and Translational Science Awards Program.

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