Former US House of Representatives member Patrick J. Kennedy spoke at a press conference this afternoon in San Francisco to commence the "Brain at War" conference that starts tomorrow at the Marines Memorial Hotel.
In an hour long press conference, Kennedy who served two terms in the House representing District 9 for Providence, Rhode Island, spoke loudly and with some anger about the need for treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Kennedy said that there is no excuse to consider the effects of PTSD as not real wounds. "the internal wounds upon the brain are just as real as those soldiers we see bleeding on the battlefield," he said.
Kennedy said to the news reporters and broadcast media present that those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are returning home but that they are still on a battlefield, they are in effect prisoners of war to the scars left upon the brain.
Dr. Thomas Neylan, director of the PTSD Program at San Francisco's Veteran's Affairs Medical Center in San Francisco was also present. Neylan also works in conjunction with the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California at San Francisco.
Neylan verified that according to recent studies and analysis physical damage to the human brain can be detected and documented. The digital technology that has developed over the past 10 years has greatly enhanced the ability to view the intricate aspects of the human brain.
Neylan noted that with this new technology doctors and researchers are able to view the part of the brain called the hippocampus. This is a major component of the brain in humans and actual "effects of PTSD are indicated in that region," said Neylan.
Neylan also noted to the press that anyone having PTSD is vulnerable to more health problems. "PTSD affects the entire body, influencing heart disease, dementia and other physical inflammatory markers within the body," he said.
Neylan also said that those who suffer with PTSD also become more susceptible to Parkinson's Disease and Alzheimer's.
Kennedy who is son to the late Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy of Massachusetts has been a very outspoken advocate for improving the mental health system of the nation. At today's press conference Patrick Kennedy's ardor on the subject was very obvious. He raised his voice several times which at moments seemed a bit over-bearing.
Yet, the 43-year-old Kennedy was adamant that the health care system in the USA needs to be "dismantled" and reconstituted to make all illnesses both physical and mental part of one complete health care system not separate.
Kennedy has been advocating for mental health for some time as highlighted in the press such as the New York Times and Washington Post.
In 2008 Kennedy co-sponsored the bill to ensure insurance companies view mental health as important. Kennedy's efforts rallied the US Congress to approve legislation that would require private insurers to provide the same level of benefits for mental illness as they do for physical conditions.
Dr. Neylan answered a reporter's question as to if there are treatments currently available for PTSD. "We know that areas of the brain that are altered by PTSD can be successfully treated," he said.
Yet, Kennedy noted that many veterans and others wandering homeless on the streets and those incarcerated don't understand that PTSD is treatable.
With over 2 million who have served in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, Kennedy considers the issue of PTSD an epidemic among current veterans. Dr. Neylan noted that at the high end of statistical data the current numbers are about 20 percent.
Some other sources vary a bit in the percentages. But the sources concur that PTSD is alarming and has a far reaching impact upon our society.
This reporter asked if Kennedy had anyone in his family or close circle of friends who suffered from PTSD. He said no but that he actually knew of situations where those who served in combat suffered tremendously or committed suicide.
He mentioned to this reporter military servicemen like Kit Parker.
"Those who served in previous wars such as in World War II for example also experienced PTSD (then it was referred to as battle fatigue), but they were sent home after being wounded. Today, said Kennedy, our military personnel are being deployed two and three times," he said.
"The wounds of PTSD are physical wounds," he said. They affect the brain, "only they bleed out years later affecting these lives and the lives of the families that care for them," said Kennedy.
Kennedy considers the lack of proper care and awareness for PTSD "a win for the terrorists," he said.
Kennedy also said as he concluded the press conference that the knowledge and technology available in the medical and scientific community needs to be shared. And, more must be collaborated between both military and civilian circles.
Neylan agreed as he noted the need for collaboration and cooperation is vital for meeting the growing need that PTSD is causing upon society.
The "Brain at War" conference starts tomorrow at the Marines Memorial Hotel for more information visit the Veterans Health Research Institute web site.