Monday, July 26, 2010

Skyline Medical Center's Warrior Wellness helps soldiers deal with effects of combat

By Christina E. Sanchez • THE TENNESSEAN • July 26, 2010

PageSoldiers' battles aren't always fought on the front lines. Some happen at home, when the soldier returns from the war zone and begins to deal with the effects of combat.

With more than 1 million troops leaving active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan between 2002 and 2009, the need to help soldiers keeps growing, and more private hospitals are tailoring their services to aid the troops.

About 18 percent of troops who return from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, an anxiety condition often brought on by a terrifying ordeal. Also, up to 25 percent of troops may experience depression, according to the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.

That's why Skyline Medical Center in Madison has partnered with Fort Campbell to provide mental health services to soldiers who are returning home and trying to cope.

"Most people are placed into horrific situations when they are deployed, and there are normal reactions to trauma," said Dr. Scott Wilson, director of Skyline's Warrior Wellness initiative. "We saw that soldiers weren't fully having their mental health needs met."

The number of soldiers who take their own lives has been increasing. Data from the Army shows that 245 soldiers committed suicide in 2009, up from 195 in 2008 and 115 in 2007. The Army saw more suicides in June — 32 — than it has seen in a single month since Vietnam, recently released statistics show.

Fort Campbell in Clarksville had 11 suicides in the first five months of 2009, more than any other Army post during that time. The base, which has about 35,000 soldiers, shut down operations for three days.

Brain suffers changes

Common causes of stress disorder can include seeing dead people, being shot at, being attacked or ambushed and knowing someone who was injured or killed. Other times, the soldiers' mental health issues can stem from concussions suffered during a battle or after an encounter with an improvised explosive device.

The results can be excessive fears, substance abuse and relationship difficulties, said Dr. Bret Logan, deputy commander for managed care and compliance at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital and executive director of the traumatic brain injury war resiliency and recovery center at Fort Campbell. Signs of mental health issues can be lack of concentration, memory loss and aggressive or violent behavior.

"When you are overexposed to a threatening, chronic event, it produces changes in the brain," Logan said. "You have to calm the brain down."

Logan said the post also uses services for mental health at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Centennial Hospital in Nashville to help soldiers, and because the Army gets one-third of its care from community health-care systems, the private sector services will continue to grow.

Since Skyline's Warrior Wellness Program started in March, the unit has been almost always full, averaging about 12 soldiers daily. The average stay of soldiers has been about 10 days.

The program emphasizes keeping the routines of military life, including discipline and physical conditioning, along with treatment. Soldiers participate in group and individual therapy and may be put on medications.

"These are the soldiers that were in the thick of things," Wilson said. "We are going to see more civilian hospitals help fill the gap in services."

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