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Delivering care for Iraqi veterans in need

July 27, 2009 - 1 Comment

People who need medical and psychiatric help often have to overcome great obstacles to obtain it. If you live in a place where there is no access to medical services, or with some cultural stigma attached to pursuing psychiatric treatment, the hurdles to wellness are even greater.

For those who have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which includes emotions ranging from fear and sadness, to anxiety, changes in eating habits and nightmares, treatment is imperative if the symptoms last longer than a month, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Along with the more than 12,000 residents who live in Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa, 500 soldiers returned to the area after serving in Iraq. According to a military representative, returning veterans have a high risk of developing depression and self-destructive behavior. And, as former infantry soldiers, many have PTSD and may have experienced traumatic brain injuries.

There is only one social worker and one psychiatrist to help everyone who lives on that side of the island. There is help at the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) clinic on the other side of the island, but it is a long drive that many can’t or won’t make.  In addition, mental health issues are often considered weaknesses, and may carry a stigma in any culture.

That’s where “telehealth” through video conferencing is bridging the gap.  Now, veterans and their families can visit the Lyndon Baynes Johnson (LBJ) Tropical Medical Center in Pago Pago and use video conferencing to communicate with the VA clinical psychology providers many miles away across the island.

Video conferencing allows for the type of face-to-face communication that is necessary for psychological healthcare. With a secure connection, the patient’s privacy is protected, and the patient gets the doctor’s full attention, communicating as if he or she were in the same room. The doctor benefits from being able to observe critical non-verbal cues which can help with diagnoses.

All Americans, particularly US Veterans of Foreign Wars returning from war, need and deserve support during a mental health crisis. Video conferencing is a great way to help provide that support, particularly for those who cannot easily access their medical benefits.

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  1. I am interested in using my TeleICU skill to assist in the care of TBI patients. The recent grant was looking for thought leaders and partners. Is there interest in using my skills?