Government Relations Update

APA member briefs Capitol Hill on PTSD research with women veterans

Evidence-based psychological treatments implemented at VA medical centers.

By Heather O’Beirne Kelly

A Capitol Hill briefing, held on April 25, 2012, featured Paula Schnurr, PhD, who serves as Deputy Executive Director of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA’s) National Center for PTSD and is a member of the American Psychological Association (APA). Schnurr was one of two featured VA scientists at the event, sponsored by APA’s Science Government Relations Office and the Friends of VA Medical Care and Health Research. She was invited to brief Members of Congress and their staff on the results of clinical trials that she has overseen involving women veterans suffering from PTSD as well as on the importance of funding VA’s intramural research program.

Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY), Chairwoman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health, delivers opening remarks at the April 25 Capitol Hill briefing.Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY), Chairwoman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health, opened the briefing by urging her Congressional colleagues to support veterans through continued investment in veteran--centric research within the VA. A registered nurse and former Assistant New York State Attorney General, freshman Congresswoman Buerkle has brought to her new Subcommittee role both first-hand experience in healthcare and a strong commitment to serving veterans in the context of their families and communities. Within the past year she has partnered with APA’s Public Interest Directorate in addressing the issue of suicide prevention in military and veteran populations, and her remarks at this hearing signaled her support for VA research.

The VA’s Chief Research and Development Officer, Joel Kupersmith, MD, was on hand to give the standing-room-only audience, which also included federal agency personnel and veterans organization representatives, an overview of the broad VA research portfolio. Schnurr outlined the mission of the VA’s National Center for PTSD, which is aimed at promoting “the best clinical care and functional status of veterans through research, education, and training related to the etiology, diagnosis, and treatment of PTSD and stress-related disorders.”  She described the Center’s seven divisions, representing unique areas of expertise ranging from neurobiology to dissemination and training, and explained that her own work grew out of a need to close the gap between evidence and practice to work with the growing number of women using VA healthcare. 

Paula Schnurr, Deputy Executive Director of the VA’s National Center for PTSD and an APA member, presented her research findings on women veterans and PTSD.Schnurr led the first VA cooperative study focused exclusively on women, employing randomized clinical trials to study prolonged exposure treatment for PTSD.  Despite concerns that VA patients could not tolerate prolonged exposure treatment and that VA therapists would not be able to deliver the treatments, Schnurr and her team found that women veterans in her treatment group were 2.4 times as likely as those in a comparison group to experience complete remission and that VA therapists could be trained to deliver the treatments effectively.  VA is now implementing rollouts of prolonged exposure therapy and cognitive processing therapy (both evidence-based treatments for PTSD) to all VA medical centers.  Schnurr is focusing on comparative effectiveness studies to identify optimal strategies for individual patients with PTSD.

Schnurr was joined on the research expert panel by Randy Kardon, MD, PhD, a neuro-ophthalmologist and Director of the Iowa City VA Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Visual Loss.  Kardon’s research into the human eye has led to the development of smartphone applications that may be used soon on the battlefield (and at home) to better detect and monitor a variety of diseases and injuries for more effective treatment in military personnel, veterans and eventually civilians.

APA’s science government relations staff and colleagues from the Friends of VA coalition will continue to meet throughout the spring and summer with Members of Congress and their staffers to increase support for the VA research program as funding bills are marked up and introduced.

Heather O’Beirne Kelly, PhD, is Senior Legislative and Federal Affairs Officer in the APA Science Government Relations Office.