Every week for the past ten years Dr. Jennifer Joyce has faced the complex realities of PTSD through her work as a staff psychologist at the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System, a small VA facility in Leeds, Massachusetts. Her days are filled with organizing PTSD assessments and group therapy sessions, reviewing PTSD referrals to get Veterans appropriately assigned for treatment, helping to get Veterans into inpatient programs when necessary, and providing evidence-based treatment such as Prolonged Exposure Therapy. She encounters more than 50 Veterans every week who have some form of PTSD and often other co-occurring issues, such as depression and substance abuse. For Joyce, every month is PTSD Awareness Month.
Roughly eight out of every 100 people will experience PTSD at some point in their lifetime, and almost 500,000 of the Veterans treated by VA have a primary or secondary diagnosis of PTSD.
As the nation continues to focus its attention on helping Veterans and others recognize symptoms and seek needed care during PTSD Awareness Month and beyond, it’s equally important to make sure that providers treating patients with PTSD have the information and resources they need to deliver effective treatment.
Joyce found professional support in what she considers one of the best kept secrets of VA – the PTSD Consultation Program at the National Center for PTSD. A self-described “frequent flyer” of the program, she finds herself reaching out to program consultants several times a month for support on anything and everything from feedback on PTSD assessments to help figuring out how to get patients with complex diagnoses the services and care they need. As the resident PTSD expert in her facility, she recognizes the value of consulting with experienced colleagues who all have their own areas of expertise that can add value to her work.
“One of the best things that PTSD program consultants do for me is that when I run up against difficult issues, they help me take a step back and conceptualize things, because I’m often dealing with Veterans with numerous needs, including PTSD, depression, substance abuse and homelessness,” Joyce explained. “[They] really helped me trust, take a step back and see the big picture and details, so I could make the best recommendations on treatment.”
Joyce is one of the program’s biggest cheerleaders and, she frequently encourages colleagues to use it. She finds that many are either unaware of the free consultation services available or may be hesitant to use it, not knowing how much time it will take.
“The PTSD Consultation Program is valuable for anyone providing mental health support within or outside of VA because all of its services and resources are free and the quality and experience of the team of professionals is unparalleled,” said Dr. Sonya Norman, director of the PTSD Consultation Program.”
The consultants are leaders and innovators in PTSD treatment and research. With an average of nearly two decades of experience, they have designed, implemented and led PTSD treatment programs, and have consulted on thousands of PTSD cases. Clinicians are available to consult on everything from the toughest cases to general questions on topics such as resources, evidence-based treatment and medications. They are truly just a phone call, email or click away and typically respond within 24 hours.
“Every experience has been really positive,” said Joyce. “Their response time is very quick, and they work with you to figure out the best way to communicate, whether by phone or email. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time. It’s often as easy as a quick email. When people ask me questions, I say run it by the PTSD Consultation team.”
“The goal of the PTSD Consultation Program and all of the resources that are available is to help all Veterans receive excellent PTSD treatment, regardless of where they access services,” said Norman.
“PTSD is inherently a global and humanitarian public health issue,” said Dr. Matthew Friedman, former executive director of the National Center and current staff psychiatrist and consultant with the PTSD Consultation Program, “and we feel lucky to be on the frontlines making significant and useful contributions to medicine, mental health care and providers from all backgrounds. We are happy to share our experience and expertise with anyone treating Veterans with PTSD.”
To use the free PTSD Consultation Program resources, providers who treat Veterans can email the PTSD Consultation Program at PTSDconsult@va.gov, call 866-948-7880.Check out the full range of free PTSD resources, including on-line continuing education; web pages and assessment tools for professionals; resources on military culture and Veteran-specific issues; and publications, handouts, videos and mobile apps online at www.ptsd.va.gov/consult.
About the author: Todd McKee serves as the program manager for VA’s PTSD Consultation Program. He is the first point of contact for consultation requests and provides consultation on general information about PTSD and available resources on the National Center for PTSD’s internet and intranet sites.