SAN ANTONIO — Two weeks ago, Ret. Army Col. Stacey Young-McCaughan received a cryptic email saying the White House needed to vet her.
It was the University of Texas Health Science Center psychiatry professor's first inkling that she would be named among the administration's 10 “Women Veteran Leader Champions of Change.” She'll be honored Tuesday at the White House at an event at the juncture of Women's History Month and the Department of Veterans Affairs' effort to support the nation's female veterans — 2.2 million strong and growing fast.
Young-McCaughan, 57, retired in 2008 after 29 years with the Army Nurse Corps and now directs research for the multi-institution STRONG STAR Consortium, an acronym for South Texas Research Organizational Network Guiding Studies on Trauma and Resilience.
The group is pushing 20-plus studies of combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder and related conditions among soldiers and recent veterans.
It's a subject she said eased her transition from active duty. Though Young-McCaughan spent time stationed in Germany during her military service, she devoted the bulk of her efforts to “supporting our troops back stateside.”
She led an institutional review board that opened a five-person research cell to study emergency care problems — including the use of tourniquets and blood products — in the actual theater of operations because “the conditions under combat are different,” she said. “It was a bit of a process to set up how we were going to make research happen in Iraq and then Afghanistan.”
The work led to “huge changes,” including the realization that some injuries stemmed from soldiers not wearing all of their protective gear, Young-McCaughan said.
“It seems so obvious,” she said. “Yet when you see it one by one by one, it doesn't quite hit you.”
Having conducted research in the Department of Defense, her current role with STRONG STAR involves taking the research that civilians want to do and bringing it into the military setting — ensuring it meets requirements and augments care.
Young-McCaughan also has her own STRONG STAR study at Fort Hood testing the helpfulness of adding exercise to a common PTSD treatment called exposure therapy.
Exposure therapy requires a patient to recount the most traumatic event he or she endured “to make sense of what happened,” she said. As homework, the patient is supposed to replay the recording, but that might trigger an emotional reaction, so she asks participants to run while they listen.
“It's the fight-or-flight response,” Young-McCaughan said. “If we give people an activity to help release that pent up energy or metabolize those stress hormones, we think that they can learn to cope with it better, and recover and move on.”