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ASU students turn research into action to help vets with PTSD

Wings for Warriors presentation
April 24, 2015

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. To read more top stories from 2015, click here.

Sept. 11, 2002, was a proud day for Anthony “Doc” Ameen, one that he’ll never forget. One year to the day after the horrific attacks on the World Trade Center, Ameen swore an oath of enlistment in the U.S. Navy.

July 28, 2008, is another date he’ll never forget. Ameen was serving as a hospital corpsman in Afghanistan when, while rushing to assist an injured Marine, he stepped on an improvised explosive device and lost the lower half of his left leg.

Like thousands of other soldiers with similar experiences, Ameen dealt with post-traumatic stress after the incident.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, of those who served in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, between 11 and 20 percent have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a given year. That’s anywhere from 275,000 to 500,000 people, and it doesn’t include veterans of other wars.

Though progress has been made toward understanding and treating PTSD, there still remains a lack of sufficient resources for those seeking help.

Those were the findings of students in Arizona State University professor James Shraiky’s course on current issues in health design, in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. The students worked with non-profit organization Wings for Warriors, which Ameen founded, to interview veterans with PTSD (or, as they call it, PTS, preferring not to call it a “disorder”) and get feedback on their experiences with various health-care systems.

The collaboration came about when Shraiky – who for the past three years has been conducting research on long-term strategies to help vets cope with PTS – mentioned to a colleague that he was looking for a non-profit to work with for one of his classes. That colleague happened to know Ameen.

Shraiky showed Ameen some of the results from his studies, and “it was like fireworks,” Shraiky said. “We connected and [Ameen] said, ‘I would love to do a case study with you.’ ”

Biological sciences undergrad Alexandra Bohnenberger, a student in Shraiky’s class, said the class’ goal was to find gaps in veterans’ health care and see how to improve it.

“We listen to veterans’ voices and see what exactly the problem is when they come back; why their PTS is developing, what’s making it worse, what could make it better,” she said.

The students worked with Wings for Warriors to find veterans willing to speak with them on phone interviews. Afterward, they analyzed their responses using a “system map” that followed a timeline of events from when the veteran enlisted to the present day in order to identify when the “gap” in sufficient support occurred.

What they found was that the majority of the vets they spoke with had the most issues during the “reintegration” phase, readjusting to civilian life. The cause of that, they discovered, was a lack of resources.

At that point, their focus shifted.

“Initially, the case study was supposed to focus on designing a health-care system,” Shraiky said, “but now it has shifted more toward a call to action, [to encourage different health-care systems] to collaborate together.”

That’s also the goal of ASU’s new Center for Veterans’ Wellness, which conducts research and helps vets affected by combat-related stress and trauma. The center was established early in 2015 to draw together experts from a variety of disciplines across the university and its partner organizations to expand their work and develop new ideas.

On April 28, students from Shraiky’s class will present their findings at a panel discussion where such organizations as Healing Arizona Veterans, the Pat Tillman Foundation, American Veterans for Equal Rights and others will be in attendance.

The event takes place from 6 to 9 p.m. at the SRP Pera Club, 1 E. Continental Drive in Tempe. It is free and open to the public.

To learn more about Wings for Warriors, visit More information is available on the organization’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.