On Aug. 29, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) celebrates its 25th anniversary. For the past 25 years, the Center has been the leader in research and education helping those who are living with PTSD. The anniversary comes as organizations across the country recognize the importance of mental health this September during Suicide Prevention Month.
The proposal for creating a National Center for PTSD arose from the growing mental health needs of Vietnam Veterans, as well as the American Psychiatric Association officially recognizing PTSD diagnosis in 1980. In 1984, Congress directed VA to form a National Center for PTSD “to carry out and promote the training of health care and related personnel in, and research into, the causes and diagnosis of PTSD and the treatment of Veterans for PTSD.”
VA established the Center in 1989 as a center of excellence that would set the agenda for research and education on PTSD. Although initially organized as a consortium of five divisions, the Center now consists of seven divisions across the United States, with headquarters in White River Junction, Vt. Other divisions are located in Boston, Mass., West Haven, Conn., Palo Alto, Cailf., and Honolulu, Hawaii. Each contributes to the overall Center mission through specific areas of focus.
The Center has become the leader in online PTSD continuing education and technology-based education and resources for trauma survivors. In 2011, the Center partnered with the Department of Defense for the first publically-available VA mobile app – the award-winning PTSD Coach.
“When we started, PTSD was a controversial diagnosis,” said Dr. Matthew Friedman, the Center’s senior advisor and its executive director from 1989 through 2013. “Our research and educational initiatives helped establish the scientific basis for PTSD, and disseminated that information globally.”
From the beginning, the Center’s initiatives have been making a critical difference in the understanding, assessment and treatment of PTSD.
Assessment and diagnosis. The Center’s first meeting in 1989 launched the development of the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale, the CAPS, which became the gold standard for assessing PTSD. Since then, we have developed other leading assessment measures for trauma and PTSD for use at VA, the Department of Defense and around the world. These assessment measures have advanced the clinical care of Veterans living with PTSD by ensuring accurate diagnosis and assessment.
Applying technology to educate and disseminate information about PTSD. In 1991, our Published International Literature on Traumatic Stress database (PILOTS) became available to the public, providing a comprehensive cross-discipline index to all published research on trauma. In 1995, the Center launched its website, www.ptsd.va.gov, which has since become one of the world’s leading websites on PTSD.
The Center has become the leader in online PTSD continuing education and technology-based education and resources for trauma survivors. In 2011, the Center partnered with the Department of Defense for the first publically-available VA mobile app – the award-winning PTSD Coach. Other self-help and treatment companion apps soon followed, as did an expanded desktop version of the Coach app and PTSD Coach Online.
The website also features testimonials from Veterans in the AboutFace series, an online video gallery of Veterans talking about living with PTSD and how treatment has turned their lives around. The open discussion from peers helps to break down barriers to seeking care and dispels misconceptions about PTSD and its treatment.
Research. The National Center for PTSD also improves care of Veterans and others through its research into the prevention, causes, assessment and treatment of traumatic stress disorders. Our investigators have been at the forefront of research demonstrating alterations in brain function associated with PTSD. This has significantly enhanced the science and understanding of PTSD and improved PTSD identification and care. They have also conducted leading research on the treatment of PTSD, particularly with evidence-based psychotherapies.
While the Center has made great strides in PTSD research and education over the past 25 years, we look forward to making even greater progress in prevention, resilience and recovery as well as diagnosis and treatment.
We have come a long way in the past 25 years, but there remains much more to be done. We must continue to increase our scientific understanding of PTSD through research and develop better evidence-based treatments as well as prevention strategies. We also need to raise public awareness of PTSD and help people with this mental health problem get the care they need. I am confident that we can and will meet these challenges.
By Paula Schnurr, Ph.D.
Acting Executive Director, Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD