First lady: Medical schools devoting research to veterans’ issues

Posted Jan. 12, 2012, at 9:59 a.m.
First lady Michelle Obama hugs John Prescott, chief academic officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges, after he introduced her as she announces a new commitment from medical schools to boost training and research for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health injuries impacting military service members at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012.
Norm Shafer | ASSOCIATED PRESS
First lady Michelle Obama hugs John Prescott, chief academic officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges, after he introduced her as she announces a new commitment from medical schools to boost training and research for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health injuries impacting military service members at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012.

RICHMOND, Va. — First lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday told military members and veterans that more medical schools are teaming up to boost training and research on brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Obama told an audience at Virginia Commonwealth University that 105 U.S. medical schools and 25 schools of osteopathic medicine are bolstering their efforts to train students in treating brain injuries, PTSD and other mental-health issues affecting service members.

To that end, the American Association of Medical Colleges and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine have pledged to devote research, education and clinical care to address military service members’ specific health care needs.

The initiative is part of the Joining Forces campaign, an effort by the first lady and Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, Jill, to focus on issues that affect veterans and their families.

Obama cited some examples already are under way at universities, including VCU, which is undergoing a project to provide resources and training tohealth care providers, volunteers and community members across Virginia to help veterans.

University of Pittsburgh researchers are developing a new imaging tool that allows physicians to see high-definition views of the brain’s wiring, which can help with diagnosing a traumatic brain injury, she said. And the University of South Florida is working with the VA and Department of Defense to create a Center for Veterans Reintegration — a research, treatment and education center for veterans and families.

The first lady told VCU medical students that the profession they’ve chosen is “the essence of true service.”

“This country is counting on you,” she said. “No pressure.”

Obama thanked the troops for their service, and noted that anyone experiencing mental health difficulties shouldn’t be ashamed.

“Seek help, don’t bury it,” she said. “Asking for help is a sign of strength.”

The Defense Department estimates that nearly 213,000 military personnel have suffered traumatic brain injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2000.

An estimated 300,000 veterans of both conflicts suffered post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression, according to a Rand Corp. report.

Obama said fewer than half had sought treatment for PTSD over the preceding year and nearly 60 percent of those reporting a probable brain injury didn’t seek evaluation by a physician.

There is no new funding associated with the initiative, and medical schools will make their own decisions about how to integrate more training and research into PTSD and traumatic brain injury into their curricula.

Before the appearance, Obama headlined a fundraiser for her husband’s re-election campaign and visited a local Veterans Administration hospital. She had another fundraiser in Charlottesville after her VCU stop.

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Associated Press Writer Julie Pace in Washington contributed to this report.

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