A number of veterans blame their current mental health issues on the way they were treated as a result of them participating in a Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) therapy group inside the Loma Linda VA Medical Center. The VA Medical Center hosted two PTSD support groups with 15 veterans in each group. The psychologist that led the two groups ended up leaving the medical center and thereby changed the dynamic of the group.
The VA told the groups they could continue their meetings but a professional facilitator would only be available once a month. The groups, then, would be left to help themselves for three weeks out of the month.
The VA has stated peer-led groups are effective based on the success of other groups at that VA. The patients in the PTSD group, however, believe the VA has more underlying, nefarious motives. The PTSD patients believe the VA Medical Center is attempting to break up the group and at the same time save money.
A sudden shift in the dynamic of a group like that could be construed as misguided, according to experts. Nationwide, the VA is taking two new approaches toward how they treat PTSD:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy, a classroom approach dealing with individual symptoms; and
- Exposure-based therapy, a theory which asks veterans to relive their traumatic experience in a safe environment.
Setting aside the effectiveness of the two approaches, experts believe neither one should be attempted without professional guidance at the group level as there is the risk of doing harm without supervision.
Following PTSD therapy groups being cut last year in other VA medical centers, VA headquarters in Washington, D.C. ordered these groups not be cut; they were subsequently reinstated. The consequences of cutting groups or suddenly removing someone in a leadership role can be dire and can include:
- Increased anger and depression;
- An increase in symptoms generally associated with PTSD such as: Nightmares, Hyper vigilance, Insomnia;
- Increased suicidal thoughts or behaviors;
- Anger towards the VA;
- Relapsing of substance abuse;
- Feelings of not being able to make any progress on their own; and
- General regression;
The VA anticipates a large influx of people in the coming months as more people start to return from Middle East Deployments and as people leave the military. There is going to be more of a need for qualified PTSD groups available in order to incorporate and implement the VA’s new PTSD treatments.