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Biden calls for more brain research that could help veterans

May. 5, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Joe Biden
Vice President Joe Biden addresses the Motion Picture Association of America's creativity conference May 2 at the Newseum in Washington. On May 5, Biden called for more brain research during a speech at the American Psychiatric Association annual meeting in New York. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)
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Vice President Joe Biden made a pointed call Monday for more brain research, describing the brain as the “only uncharted territory on Earth.”

Delivering the convocation speech at the American Psychiatric Association annual meeting in New York, Biden spoke of a national need for more psychiatrists and mental health providers to assist in that effort.

With an estimated one in five Iraq and Afghanistan veterans thought to have brain injuries related to concussions or head injuries in addition to mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress or depression, the need exists for research into early detection of brain diseases and injuries, Biden said.

“I get in trouble for saying this, but the government only has one truly sacred obligations, and that’s to equip and prepare those who we send into harm’s way and care for them when they get home,” Biden said.

Biden said research will help not only those with mental health concerns but also would advance treatments for such diseases as epilepsy, autism and Alzheimer’s.

The APA annual convention is the largest gathering in the U.S. of psychiatrists, mental health advocates, pharmaceutical representatives and other involved in behavioral health treatment. It also draws participants from more than 50 countries.

Biden recommended educating primary care physicians to recognize the signs of mental distress and encourage patients to seek help. He said that in both civilian and military communities, the country has come a long way in reducing the stigma of seeking treatment for mental health.

“We are getting to a place where a stranger looks to help, not look away,” Biden said.

According to Biden, the Veterans Affairs Department’s 2015 budget contains more than $7 billion for mental health, including paying and training a total of 21,000 mental health providers.

Biden said the country is on the cusp of being able to map the human brain, poised to treat, cure and prevent brain diseases.

That would help Americans of all ages, he said, including the young, some of whom face the onset of psychiatric illnesses in early adulthood, the aging and veterans and troops.

“Imagine if we could [treat the mental illnesses] like the physical injuries,” Biden said. “Sorry to focus so much on veterans, but there’s a lot we owe these kids. We’ve come a long way but there is so much more to do.”

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