“The concept here is to offer more choices for our veterans outside of what the VA already is able to provide to them.,” says Dr. Jair Soares.

June is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month. One group in particular, veterans, has a huge stake in our advancing understanding of PTSD and ways to treat it. There are 1.4 million veterans in Texas, and many struggle with behavioral health concerns.

The UTHealth Trauma and Resilience Center at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) offers a team-based, integrated approach to the behavioral health needs of veterans and their families.

Dr. Jair Soares is the Chair of Psychiatry and Director of the UT Center of Excellence on Mood Disorders at the McGovern Medical School Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at UTHealth. In this interview, he discusses the vision for the new Trauma and Resilience Center and what it means for understanding PTSD.

First-of-its-kind Resource for Veteran PTSD and Behavioral Health

PTSD is a health concern for veterans and civilians alike with an estimated 20 percent of people who experience trauma developing PTSD. Classic portrayals of PTSD stereotype it as a condition of severely unhinged veterans, but more commonly it manifests as a person becoming withdrawn, having nightmares, and avoiding situations that relive the trauma they’ve experienced. In addition, it’s common for substance use and depression to co-occur.

At the Trauma and Resilience Center, the multi-disciplinary concept expands choices provided to veterans as well as their spouses and children who have also been affected. “The VA [Veterans Affairs office] does a great job, but the lines are often long and more is needed,” says Dr. Soares. By bringing together a strong training component, education, diagnosis and awareness, the center provides evidence-based services to a vulnerable population.

In addition to direct services for veterans and their families, the center trains psychology interns, psychiatry residents, medical students, junior faculty, and will expand to other professionals including nurses. The center also conducts cutting-edge research on PTSD and veteran populations. A critical piece of the puzzle includes clinical research around the causes as well as biological vulnerability of PTSD.

Step Toward Trauma-Informed Care for Veterans

The UTHealth Trauma and Resilience Center is the brainchild of Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston). Dr. Soares says that after years of planning and advocating, they were able to obtain the resources to start the center, which opened its doors in March 2018 and currently employs an interim director (B. Christopher Frueh, PhD), two MD psychiatrists, and four PhD psychologists. The center will continue to grow and expand services, research and training, fulfilling an important need in the community.

The focus now will be on outreach and promotion to local veteran populations to ensure that resources are matched with those who need it.

The Hogg Foundation believes that community-based approaches to addressing mental health concerns have the potential to create more positive mental health outcomes. The foundation has long explored the role of trauma in behavioral health. For more information on this topic, check out our interview with Dr. Karen Harvey.

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