Timing of Evidence-Based Psychotherapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Initiation Among Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans in the Veterans Health Administration

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Objective: Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) and prolonged exposure therapy (PE) were widely disseminated to treat posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). However, few Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans (Operation Enduring Freedom [OEF], Operation Iraqi Freedom [OIF], Operation New Dawn [OND]) diagnosed with PTSD have received CPT/PE and many initiate CPT/PE after substantial delay. Veterans who do not initiate CPT/PE or initiate CPT/PE after delay may have poorer treatment outcomes. This study aimed to identify predictors of CPT/PE initiation and timing. Methods: Participants included OEF/OIF/OND veterans diagnosed with PTSD who received psychotherapy between 2001 and 2017 in the VHA (n = 265,566). Logistic regression analysis was utilized to predict initiating CPT/PE (vs. no CPT/PE). Multinomial logistic regression analysis was utilized to predict not initiating or initiating delayed CPT/PE versus “early CPT/PE” (<1 year after first mental health visit). Analyzed predictors included demographic, military, and clinical complexity variables (e.g., comorbidities, reported military sexual trauma [MST] history). Results: Seventy-Seven percent of veterans did not initiate CPT/PE, with 7.4% initiating early and 15.4% initiating delayed CPT/PE. Reported MST history (odds ratio [OR] = 1.45, 95% CI [1.39, 1.51]) and history of suicidal ideation/attempt (OR = 1.42, 95% CI [1.38, 1.46]) were strong predictors of CPT/PE initiation versus no CPT/PE. Comorbid pain (relative risk ratio [RRR] = 1.35, 95% CI [1.30, 1.42]) and depressive disorders (RRR = 1.37, 95% CI [1.32, 1.43]) were associated with increased likelihood of delayed versus early CPT/PE. Conclusions: Most veterans in our study did not initiate CPT/PE. Generally, clinical complexity variables increased likelihood of initiating CPT/PE and initiating CPT/PE more than 1 year after first mental health visit. Additional research is needed to understand whether CPT/PE delay results from receipt of alternative intervention due to clinical complexity variables.

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