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JBSA News
NEWS | June 27, 2013

Clinical study to determine PTSD therapy's effectiveness

By Robert Goetz Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs

Joint Base San Antonio medical facilities are taking part in a clinical study to determine the effectiveness of two evidence-based treatments for deployment-related post-traumatic stress disorder in a primary care setting.

Coordinated by Lt. Col. Jeffrey Cigrang, U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine senior scientist, through the South Texas Research Organizational Network Guiding Studies on Trauma and Resilience consortium, also known as STRONG STAR, the clinical study began in the fall and now includes more than 20 participants at three JBSA locations.

"This is groundbreaking intervention for treating people in a primary care setting," Jennifer Mitchell, 359th Medical Operations Squadron behavioral health consultant, said. "We're using two evidence-based treatments for PTSD called prolonged exposure and cognitive processing therapy."

Mitchell, a licensed psychologist who is part of the primary care team at the Randolph Medical Clinic, said the study will determine the effectiveness of this treatment protocol - brief cognitive behavioral therapy for PTSD in primary care.

"Actually the overall goal is to expand the treatment options for PTSD to include treatment in a primary care setting, and increase access to care for active duty and veterans," she said.

The treatment involves four 30-minute sessions over a four- to six-week period. San Antonio Military Medical Center and Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center are the other JBSA collaborators in the clinical study.

Participants in the study must have PTSD symptoms stemming from service in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn, Mitchell said. They qualify for the study based on a screening performed at the primary care facility.

"They don't have to meet a full diagnosis for PTSD," she said.

Lt. Col. (Dr.) Timothy Kosmatka, Randolph Family Health Clinic medical director, said a primary care facility is an appropriate setting for PTSD patients to begin their recovery.

"PTSD is unfortunately becoming much more commonplace among patients for many reasons," he said. "Additionally, we are finding more cases as providers are becoming more astute at picking up the signs and symptoms of PTSD. The ability to get a patient seen more quickly in the environment of a primary care clinic they are already comfortable and familiar with is a tremendous benefit to help our patients begin the recovery process."

Mitchell said a primary care facility is also fitting because behavioral health is already integrated into services.

"It reduces the stigma for seeking help," she said.

STRONG STAR, which is striving to prevent the development of chronic PTSD through their research and treatment protocols, will evaluate the sessions and determine if the intervention helped patients manage their symptoms effectively, Mitchell said.

"A preliminary study with 30 participants from 2010-11 showed they had positive outcomes," she said.

The clinical study will conclude once 60 patients have completed their sessions, Mitchell said.

Primary care facilities do not offer long-term treatment, she noted, but resources such as mental health flights and Military OneSource are available to patients.

"It's not long-term, but it's a nice segue to more intensive care," Mitchell said.