A pilot project underway in California is testing the use of wireless technologies to treat veterans with mental health issues.
The Veterans Transition to Community project leverages patients' cell phones and PDAs to collect their mental health data and increase their contact with health care providers, said Lincoln Smith, the president and CEO of the Altarum Institute. Smith testified before the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday.
The nonprofit health systems consultancy developed the protocol to treat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use disorders, major depressive disorders and mild traumatic brain injury. Several times a day, over a period of months, the system prompts veterans under care to answer questions designed to document emotional states such as stress, rejection, fear, craving, pain and coping. By amassing a rich data set, Altarum hopes to improve assessment of behavioral health disorders and improve treatment options.
"Reminders, supportive messages, pictures of pleasurable memories, inspirational music, and an interactive pain-scale support the service members and veterans to avert crises that may affect them in their transition from the therapeutic environment to work and community life," Smith told lawmakers. "In a time of increasingly tight budget, the incremental cost of maintaining a service member in this program is negligible."
Altarum has tested the system at a residential veterans treatment center in Napa Valley. Combining data collected from multiple patients will afford a means to assess treatment options and outcomes of cohorts defined by theater of conflict, service, gender, age and other factors.
Up to 20 percent of soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have been in proximity to explosions that resulted in positive screenings for mild traumatic brain injury, which is associated with a 90 percent increase in the occurrence of post-traumatic stress disorder, reports Altarum.
I'm reminded of what the late, great George Carlin had to say on the subject way back in the 1980s, long before cell phones and the war in Afghanistan, which this month became the longest in our nation's history:
There's a condition in combat. Most people know about it. It's when a fighting person's nervous system has been stressed to its absolute peak and maximum. Can't take anymore input. The nervous system has either snapped or is about to snap. In the first world war, that condition was called shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables, shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves. That was seventy years ago. Then a whole generation went by and the second world war came along and the very same combat condition was called battle fatigue. Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn't seem to hurt as much. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock. Shell shock! Battle fatigue. Then we had the war in Korea, 1950. Madison Avenue was riding high by that time, and the very same combat condition was called operational exhaustion. Hey, we're up to eight syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase. It's totally sterile now. Operational exhaustion. Sounds like something that might happen to your car. Then of course, came the war in Vietnam, which has only been over for about sixteen or seventeen years, and thanks to the lies and deceits surrounding that war, I guess it's no surprise that the very same condition was called post-traumatic stress disorder. Still eight syllables, but we've added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon. Post-traumatic stress disorder. I'll bet you if we'd of still been calling it shell shock, some of those Viet Nam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time. I'll betcha. I'll betcha.
Today, veterans receiving some type of treatment from the Veterans Affairs Department attempt 950 suicide each month, according to Army Times. Suicide is a bigger risk factor for death than is suicide bombers. Thank god we now have an app for that.
I wonder what George would say?