April is "Occupational Therapy" month, and come to find out -- Occupational Therapy has an interesting past! It was founded in World War I as a way to deal with shell shock -- what PTSD was called at the time -- because it was thought that "doing" was therapeutic for injured veterans, not just "talking." I've been fascinated with this ever since I learned it from an OT with a specialty in mental health, who has practiced in and around the military for decades.
(If you know any veterans who have been injured, you've probably heard about occupational therapy for traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), amputations from IED blasts, etc. But PTSD? Wow. Who knew that it was founded as a discipline to address that!
On the hunt for more information about this topic, I uncovered the following. Carolyn M. Baum, Ph.D., the immediate past president of the American Occupational Therapy Association ("AOTA") presented testimony on post-traumatic stress disorder to the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health on April 1, 2008. Her testimony, "Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Treatment and Research: Moving Toward Recovery, "explained the unique contributions of occupational therapy in the treatment of PTSD and other mental health issues."
"Occupational therapy brings a third dimension to the system of care for PTSD. Medication and counseling, supported by occupational therapy and performance, is the approach that we recommend the VA adopt, she said."
Dr. Baum also promoted the role of occupational therapy broadly with the Veteran's Administration (VA).
(Inquiring minds want to know what happened with that...)
Here are her remarks in full:
Statements of Carolyn M. Baum, Ph.D., OTR/L, FAOTA, Immediate Past President, American Occupational Therapy Association, and Professor, Occupational Therapy and Neurology, Elias Mitchell Director of the Program in Occupational Therapy, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO; David Matchar, M.D., Member, Committee on Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice, Institute o Medicine, the National Academies, and Director and Professor of Medicine, Center for Clinical Health Policy Research, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC; and Mark D. Wiederhold, M.D., Ph.D., FACP, President, Virtual Reality Medical Center, San Diego, CA; Accompanied by Gerald M. Haase, M.D., Founder and Chief Medical Officer, Premier Micronutrient Corporation, Nashville, TN.
Statement of Carolyn M. Baun, Ph.D., OTR/L, FAOTA:
You introduced me, so I will bypass that. I also am the Professor of both Occupational Therapy and Neurology at Washington University School of Medicine.Occupational Therapy (OT) has had a rich history providing services to veterans dating back to World War I. Occupational therapists help wounded warriors return to their military responsibilities or transition into civilian life. We do this by helping them set goals, develop strategies to accomplish their goals, and gain the skills that allow them to achieve the maximum level of participation and independence.Occupational therapy perhaps is best known for its work in rehabilitation services after stroke, loss of vision, physical injury, including amputations, and traumatic brain injury, but occupational therapists also treat individuals with stress-related disorders that result in mental and cognitive impairments as well.
OT plays a unique role in helping veterans recover from PTSD as they serve as key members of the team, that along with physicians and psychologists who use medication and counseling, the occupational therapist employs performance strategies that support the veterans in achieving success in their performance in daily activities.
Actually, it is in these daily activities that it is possible to observe the problems veterans are having with multi-tasking, with sequencing of tasks, with their safety, with their judgment, and actually identifying the cognitive fatigue which has a very important need for consideration.
These are all problems that require strategies for individuals to overcome.
The effective treatment of PTSD and the return of veterans back into their work, their family, and community lives really requires an integrated system of care that includes assessment, goal setting, treatment, and learning to self-manage life with PTSD.
Rehabilitation does not stop when veterans are discharged from hospitals or medical care. It must be provided along a continuum addressing community reintegration, social reconnections, and work accommodations. All these are areas in which occupational therapists play an important role.
Veterans with PTSD often have difficulty in their daily lives and avoid activities because they result in anxiety or fear or even anger. Consider, for example, a soldier who is driving on routine patrol when a road-side bomb explodes. Upon returning home, the veteran might experience flashbacks of that event triggered simply by driving.
The therapist might use simulated or virtual reality driving experiences or even actual driving experience in a controlled environment to help the veteran extinguish or reframe the negative stress reactions.Therapists also work with veterans to help them manage issues related to PTSD such as depression, mild head injury, or concussion, and substance abuse by helping them develop strategies to reengage in daily life that are meaningful for them and their families. Having the families involved is particularly important because we know the importance of social support to individuals recovering from PTSD.
The unique contribution of occupational therapy is highly valued by the Army for their combat stress control. The Army model deserves additional attention from the Veterans Administration and the Subcommittee because it fully recognizes occupational therapy's contribution as a member of the team by adding the performance component to the medication and counseling provided by other team members. We recommend the VA consider and adopt the Army model.The Veterans Administration has made significant strides in preparing to meet the needs of veterans, but work remains to be done. There are only 750 occupational therapists in the entire VA system. While both the Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense guidelines for PTSD exist and include occupational therapy, it is the experience of our members that the inclusion of occupational therapist varies from site to site. This variation does not ensure full access to effective treatment.
The American Occupational Therapy Association encourages the Committee to look at this issue. From the consultation with AOTA's members within the VA, we have heard that they are struggling to maintain the quality of care for which they are known because of increased demand for rehabilitation services and gaps in staffing.
The most important issue is to ensure that veterans receive the services they need to recover and reenter community life, able to care for themselves and others, able to work and make contributions to their families and communities. If the VA has staffing problems, they should look for, and contract with, community programs to provide the services that the veterans need.
Just as you discussed earlier with Colonel Hoge, there is also a need to study the effectiveness of complex interventions, medications, counseling, and I would ask for consideration to add the third leg to the stool, the importance of daily life performance.
Research should seek to understand the relationship of quality of life to PTSD symptom severity, disability, treatment outcomes and cost. The problem begs for an interdisciplinary translational clinical study.
Mr. Chairman, I have made additional recommendations in my written testimony, but I want to highlight a couple of issues for your Subcommittee's consideration.
To increase the numbers of occupational therapists within the Veterans Administration, we would urge that the Subcommittee consider expanding the Student Loan Repayment Program to ensure that the VA remains an attractive employment option because there is a real supply and demand issue for OTs right now and that would draw people to the VA services.
Salaries in the VA appear to be lower than other healthcare settings. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated in 2006 that the average salary in California for occupational therapists was $73,000. Right now the Palo Alto Polytrauma Rehab Center is offering $50,000 for two new positions that have been vacant since last July.
New positions continue to be added across the country, but salary will continue to be an issue, and AOTA urges the Subcommittee and the VA to attend to salary, recruitment, and retention issues.
Mr. Chairman, in conclusion, I want to reiterate that occupational therapy has expertise in the treatment of functional impairments resulting from a broad range of conditions faced by veterans, including PTSD. Occupational therapy should be explicitly included on treatment teams to address the every-day life issues of veterans and their families through the phases of recovery and community reintegration.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to provide testimony to the Subcommittee. AOTA looks forward to working with Congress and the VA to meet the needs of our veterans. And I would be happy to answer any questions. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Dr. Baum appears on p. 45.]
Mr. Michaud. Thank you very much, Dr. Baum.
Editor's note: The source for the testimony is linked, here.