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UTHealth opens first PTSD treatment center focused on veterans, families

Photo of Texas Rep. Senfronia Thompson during a tour of UTHealth's psychiatry department. She authored the legislation that led to the UTHealth Center on Trauma and Resilience.
Texas Rep. Senfronia Thompson during a tour of UTHealth's psychiatry department. She authored the legislation that led to the UTHealth Center on Trauma and Resilience.

HOUSTON – (March 12, 2018) – The first-of-its-kind center dedicated to treating the behavioral health needs of military veterans and their families, the UTHealth Trauma and Resilience Center has opened its doors at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).

As part of its mission to care for veterans and their family members, the center received $4 million in state funds to study integrated care for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the result of legislation authored by Texas State Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston that established a study in coordination with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to research the most effective models of treatment.

“I have many veterans in my district who are suffering from PTSD and are looking for the right treatments,” Rep. Thompson said. “This new UTHealth center will look at the right solutions for these heroes. Just as important, they will look at solutions that include the veterans’ family and friends as part of that treatment. PTSD does not impact the patient in a vacuum, it also impacts those loved ones around that patient.”

The state has an estimated 1.4 million veterans, of which about 200,000 live in Harris County.

Thompson will be recognized at an opening celebration of the center, which is part of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, on March 27 at the UTHealth Behavioral and Biomedical Sciences Building.

“Texas Rep. Senfronia Thompson had a clear vision for helping our veterans and we are so grateful for her hard work in passing the legislation to help establish the new center,” said Jair Soares, M.D., Ph.D., professor and Pat R. Rutherford, Jr. Chair in Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. “What is so unique about this center is that it treats not only the veterans, but their spouses and children who have also been affected by the trauma.”

A team approach to the center’s compassionate, evidence-based care, is possible because of UTHealth’s experienced faculty and staff who are skilled in treating trauma-related mental health needs as well as other psychological and health consequences related to military service. They include adult and pediatric psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, nurses and addiction specialists as well as social workers and patient case managers.

“The advantage is that we are able to assemble a unique team of people focused on a single area,” said Bobby Nix, M.D., assistant professor and vice-chair for clinical affairs in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “Having collaboration among people with different specialties allows for better treatment, more innovation and more training opportunities.”

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission will be a partner organization with UTHealth.

"We look forward to working with UTHealth on new and effective approaches to treating our military veterans and their loved ones,” said Charles Smith, executive commissioner for the Texas Health and Humans Services system. “I am very interested to see the preliminary results of this collaboration and how our work can inform other efforts.”

The focus on family members fills a gap in standard treatment for veterans experiencing PTSD. While their treatment might be covered under the Veterans Administration or medical insurance, behavioral health treatment for family members usually is not.

“Services for the children and spouses of veterans are even more variable and less reliably accessible,” said Elizabeth Newlin, M.D., associate professor and vice-chair for child and adolescent psychiatry. “In this new program, we recognize our desire and obligation to support not only the veteran, but also his or her immediate family. To be most effective, we have to acknowledge that our veterans’ experiences in the service impact their support system – most often their spouse and children.”

Newlin said military families are resilient, but a significant minority will struggle with behavioral health concerns.

“The stress related to deployment and separations, often compounded by the subsequent stress of dealing with the impact of service-related health problems, leads to a higher potential for children and spouses of veterans to experience behavioral health issues,” Newlin said. “Veterans who are reintegrating into family life are often more concerned about the health of their spouse and children.”

The center’s UT Physicians clinic is located in the UTHealth Behavioral and Biomedical Sciences Building at 1941 East Road, Suite 2100, Houston, TX, 77054. For appointments, call 713-486-2700.

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