Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System
JCMVAMC Neuropsychologist Conducting Polytrauma Research
For more than 10 years, VA and the Department of Defense have been using the medical terminology “polytrauma” to describe the multiple injuries troops have suffered from traumatic injuries, such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or motor vehicle accidents.
Polytrauma can be defined in laymen’s terms as an individual suffering multiple injuries as a result of a single incident.
Some of the most common causes of polytrauma in the recent conflicts have been IED blasts, which can produce a number of effects such as traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), amputations, burns, spinal cord injuries, complicated fractures, extensive organ damage, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other ailments.
Neuropsychologists at VA Medical Centers in Houston, Muskogee, Oklahoma City, Minneapolis and Salt Lake City are conducting joint research on combat Veterans who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq and suffered polytrauma to improve VA’s treatment for these Veterans.
Since 2011, the group has studied 115 Veterans, who have consented to participate in the research, and have collected research data through interviews, questionnaires and cognitive tests.
Rather than focusing on one or two particular diagnoses, such as PTSD or TBI in isolation, the current research is looking at multiple factors which can impact a Veteran’s ability to successfully reintegrate back into the workforce, school or family life.
For example, the researchers are examining how different factors such as emotional, cognitive and physical health and social and family support are related and how the combination of these factors influence the successful community re-entry of Veteran’s with a history of polytrauma.
“What tends to happen is a lot of research projects are looking at one particular problem like PTSD or histories of concussion or chronic pain or orthopedic injuries, but there’s relatively little work that steps back and looks at the whole picture of what a returning Veteran is experiencing,” said Jared Benge, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center (JCMVAMC) who is taking part in the research. “You very rarely see a concussion just by itself. Usually there are other issues present as well.”
Benge said the ultimate goal for the researchers is to identify which variables most strongly influence successful real world outcomes in Veterans such as returning to work, so that these variables can be the focus of treatment.
“The hope is that we can hone in on those factors that are most strongly related to real world outcomes and help guide our treatments toward that end,” said Benge. “We want to help Veterans get back to working, loving and playing and try to figure out what factors relate to that. We feel passionate about it and we’ll keep plugging away.”
The research is still ongoing, but Benge expects initial findings to be published soon.
Researchers at JCMVAMC are also working on other research projects to understand the relationship between PTSD and paranoia and the medical center has plans to study Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, an evidence-based treatment for substance abuse.