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Intensive PTSD Treatment for Veterans May Reduce Violence

Traci Pedersen | Psych Central

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been associated with violent behavior, particularly among military personnel who have returned from combat. But little is known about whether intensive PTSD treatments might be able to reduce such violent behavior.

In a new study, researchers from the Department of Psychiatry at Yale University analyzed the data of more than 35,000 U.S. military veterans who had been treated in specialized intensive Veterans Health Administration (VHA) PTSD programs.

The researchers analyzed the veterans’ sociodemographic and biographical information, program participation, and clinical factors such as PTSD symptom severity and substance use. Information was collected at program entry and again four months after discharge. Violence was assessed by a self-report measure that addressed property damage, threatening behavior and physical assault.

The findings, published online in the journal Psychiatric Services, show that combat veterans diagnosed with PTSD had a significant reduction in violent behavior during the PTSD program; the reduction lasted through four months after discharge.

In particular, veterans with PTSD who reported the most violent behavior at baseline showed the greatest reductions four months after discharge. The drop in violence strongly correlated with reductions in the veterans’ PTSD symptoms and substance use, rather than with their incarceration history or other sociodemographic and biographical variables.

The researchers noted that although an observational study is unable to identify the specific causes of reductions in violent behavior, the findings suggest that the short-term support, shelter, and asylum that formed part of intensive treatment may have contributed to the reduction in violent behavior. Such services may play a vital role in the spectrum of care for patients with combat-related PTSD.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the number of veterans with PTSD varies by service era: Among veterans of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, about 11-20 out of every 100 (between 11-20 percent) have PTSD in a given year.

Among veterans of the Gulf War (Desert Storm), about 12 of every 100 (12 percent) have PTSD. Among Vietnam veterans, around 15 in 100 (15 percent) were diagnosed with PTSD at the time of the most recent study in the late 1980s. However, it is estimated that about 30 of every 100 (30 percent) of Vietnam veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime.

Symptoms of PTSD include recurring memories or nightmares of the traumatic event, anxiety, aggression, sleeplessness, loss of interest, and feelings of numbness, anger or irritability, or being constantly on guard.

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Mental Health