SAN ANTONIO -- San Antonio, known as 'Military City U.S.A,' is not only home to the largest military population but home to a world-leading research group that's developing the best treatments for veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that is developed after a person undergoes trauma.
It's common among military members who go through life-threatening experiences while in service. It's estimated that 20 percent of the three million veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from PTSD.
Hakim Mathis was diagnosed with PTSD after he served 23 years in the Navy as a hospital corpsman. He traveled across the country and was eventually, deployed to Afghanistan.
"We took over Marja. There were several different combat scenarios. Things that happened out there between bombings and constantly having IED's, mortars, a lot of things happened not just to me," said Mathis. "You would see people that were constantly blown up or shot or there was a lot of blood. A lot of the things we wouldn't see here."
Mathis said the traumatic experiences returned with him from the battlefield. He became distrustful, depressed and paranoid even around his family.
"I had friends and people that really knew me, knew something was wrong,” said Mathis. “Not smiling as much as I used to. I'm always used to being known for being the jokester. The life of the party."
He had seen several psychologists before but wanted to find a real solution. He decided to try in-home therapy, conducted out of an office setting. A veteran can receive therapy through a computer or have a personal doctor visit.
This type of treatment is one of many studies being conducted by the 'South Texas Research Organizational Network Guiding Studies on Trauma and Resilience' (STRONG STAR) and the 'Consortium to Alleviate PTSD' (CAP). The two groups are under the umbrella of the 'UT Health Science Center.'
"I love it. I think that it's been the most beneficial experience I've had. That threat is no longer there. It's compartmentalized. I don't have to deal with it. It will always be something that will be there. Will it resurface? I don't think so," said Mathis.
"We've been seeing really great success with our participants who are enrolled in the studies, some great follow-up results and we're excited about the overall results when we eventually end the studies," said Dr. John Moring, assistant research professor.
In 2008, STRONG STAR was established after a $35 million contribution by the U.S. Department of Defense. Several years later in 2013, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veteran Affairs helped establish CAP.
STRONG and the CAP now make up the world's largest research organization focused on PTSD treatment. More than 150 investigators from more than 40 national and international institutions are part of the organization.
STRONG STAR and the CAP is led by Dr. Alan Peterson. While deployed in Iraq with the U.S. Air Force, Peterson said he saw the challenges both health care providers and military members faced with combat-related stress disorders. After he retired from the military, he came to UTHSC to develop STRONG STAR and the CAP.
"My military training, in part of one of the courses I had to take, was leading visionary organizations and basically, that's what I've done. I've reached out across the nation to try to identify the leading scientists if you will, from universities and VA's and what not,” said Peterson. “We've all come together in a large partnership to develop and evaluate treatments for combat-related PTSD in active duty and veterans.”
Peterson continued, "One of the key things that we've been doing is, we've been collecting some of the largest clinical trials that have ever been done. The largest trial is to look at what works to combat PTSD. Over the next year, we'll be publishing many of the largest studies with the first, real knowledge, science on what works."
STRONG STAR and the CAP still need active duty service members and veterans for its studies. The treatments are free.
For more information, head to www.strongstar.org/treatment.