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Echoing recent concerns about the effectiveness of military mental health efforts, a new American Legion survey of veterans found that nearly half thought clinical help they received for post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury had little or no effect on their conditions.
The study, designed as a point-in-time look at the challenges facing injured veterans, is not a scientific sample of the population as a whole. But it does echo larger concerns that the extra focus on treating those illnesses has not produced clear, reliable metrics for care.
In a report released June 20, the Institute of Medicine found the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments lack a "consistent, well-developed, evidence-based system" for treating PTSD, despite billions of dollars spent on the problem over the last decade.
The Legion's survey of about 3,100 veterans found only a small fraction of those with brain injuries or PTSD — about 16 percent — saw their medical treatment as being clearly beneficial to their health.
Roughly the same amount thought their condition worsened while in treatment. More than one in four veterans surveyed said they felt their treatment produced no tangible effect either way.
The research did not account for how long veterans received treatment, or what kinds of treatment were most likely to produce success.
But Dr. Jeffrey Greenberg, senior research director for Data Recognition Corp., which conducted the survey for the Legion, said the results illustrate frustration among veterans anxious to see improvement in their conditions.
"If you don't get better over a period of treatment, you're going to feel worse about yourself," Greenberg said.
The survey also found high rates of individuals who walked away from treatment, with the most common reason being frustration at the lack of progress and the belief that they could treat themselves. The stigma of receiving treatment for mental health issues trailed a host of other reasons for ending clinical appointments.
Veterans also expressed frustration with physicians' reliance on medication to address their symptoms. More than half of those on prescriptions said they take five or more medications; 30 percent said they use 10 or more.
Greenberg said the new survey results should serve as impetus for more research into treatments and patient response, to gauge whether the problems are ineffective care or insufficient information to patients about how to measure their progress.
Pentagon officials have said that military researchers have already begun collecting data on treatment outcomes for PTSD and other mental health issues in an effort to better address those questions.