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VA spending increases on post-traumatic stress disorder research

Bernie Monegain, Editor, Healthcare IT News

Research on post-traumatic stress disorder cost the government $24.5 million in 2009, up from the $9.9 million spent in 2005, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

The Department of Veterans Affairs funds research that focuses on health conditions that veterans may experience. According to the VA, experts estimate that up to 20 percent of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans have experienced PTSD, and demand for treatment is increasing.

Because of the importance of research in improving the services that veterans receive, the GAO was asked to report on the VA's funding of PTSD research and its processes for funding PTSD research proposals, reviewing and incorporating research outcomes into clinical practice guidelines (CPG) -– tools that offer clinicians recommendations for clinical services but do not require clinicians to provide one service over another – and determining which PTSD services are required to be made available at VA facilities.

[Read more: Pregnant, traumatized, stressed and declined: PTSD and the issue of healthcare reform.]

According to VA officials, the decision to require that two PTSD services – cognitive processing therapy and prolonged exposure therapy – be made available at VA facilities by including them in the handbook was based on a review of research outcomes and the availability of existing resources.

Specifically, VA officials told the GAO that these services were strongly recommended in the 2004 PTSD CPG and had greater evidence supporting their effectiveness than other PTSD services.

The VA also told the GAO that prior to the handbook's 2008 issuance, they had already begun investing resources in training programs for cognitive processing therapy (in 2006) and prolonged exposure therapy (in 2007). While the VA provided some documentation regarding the decision-making process for PTSD services, VA officials explained that clinical decision-making processes are not typically expected to be documented in a formal manner. VA officials told the GAO that they are clarifying language in the handbook but do not plan to revise any requirements relating to PTSD services.

[More about healthcare for veterans: Survey: Veterans face barriers to mental health, substance abuse treatment.]

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