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Alexian Brothers Hospital offers help to stressed veterans
New technology will better diagnose stress disorders
By Ames Boykin | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 6/26/2008 12:06 AM

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Veterans have a new oasis at a suburban hospital to help them recover once they return home from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Faced with the staggering estimate that at least 20 percent of soldiers coming home show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, Alexian Brothers Medical Center is expanding its efforts to help veterans.

The Elk Grove Village hospital opened its Vet Center last year and now will devote resources to help diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder in returning soldiers by tapping into new technology, officials said Wednesday.

Dr. Jeffrey David Lewine, Alexian's director of brain research, said the hospital seeks to help treat "mental health casualties" in soldiers returning home to the Chicago area.

"It's pretty clear that community-based hospitals have to step up to the plate here," Lewine said.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that can develop after a terrifying event, or ordeal in which physical harm either was inflicted or was threatened.

Alexian Brothers has started a research program for veterans using its year-old, $2.5 million brain imaging machine that can pinpoint brain function. Within a year, doctors hope to begin to understand more about how to treat the disorder through this research.

The magnetoencephalography, or MEG, machine tracks the magnetic signals generated by the electrical activity of brain cells. That's a step above a CT scan, which just measures brain structure through X-rays, Lewine said.

By using the MEG machine, doctors also can identify traumatic brain injury in veterans. This is important since a brain injury can affect how a person reacts to medications, Lewine said.

This veteran outreach is a community-wide effort. Hospital employees are volunteering to divert a portion of their wages to help subsidize the Vet Center, which offers support services for veterans and their families.

"We're trying to help our military families," said Kathleen Prunty, who helps run the Vet Center. "We understand that we're helping the families by serving the veterans."

A year-old law pushed by state Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat, created state funding to help veterans get the mental health care they need. Kotowski said he heard from various veterans groups requesting a center like the one at Alexian Brothers, so he wanted to provide state resources to help them.

"They wanted something to be done," Kotowski said.

The state budget includes $8 million for traumatic brain injury screening and a 24-hour hotline for veterans.

Those interested will have to fill out paperwork for the money. They can learn more about the veteran outreach programs at Alexian Brothers by calling (847) 593-8350.

Community leaders agree that veterans need more local resources.

"A lot of them feel negative, lost and left out because, in a lot of cases, they're not aware of what's there," Elk Grove Village resident Roy Frank said Wednesday.

Frank founded a charity benefiting soldiers and their families after his son Lance Cpl. Phillip "Phil" Frank, 20, was killed in Iraq in 2004.