Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), an injury or concussion associated with brief loss of consciousness or altered mental state, has affected as many as 35% of soldiers wounded during recent military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Up to 30% of those injured report persistent somatic, emotional and cognitive post- concussive symptoms (PCS) which may adversely impact family life and community re-integration. Marital conflict and intimate partner violence, reported by 54% of OEF/OIF couples, and co-occurring mental health problems may exacerbate cognitive dysfunction and delay rehabilitation. A key contributor to marital conflict is a lack of knowledge about the Veteran's condition and the skills needed to help him compensate for common deficits in memory and planning which create challenges in household management. Despite a growing evidence base for couples treatment for PTSD, there is no established family-based treatment for OEF/OIF Veterans with mTBI, creating a critical research and services gap. The proposed research aims to fill this gap by evaluating a novel form of multi-family group treatment designed to improve community integration (CI) among married/cohabiting OEF/OIF Veterans with mTBI by training spouse/partners to aid with rehabilitation and employing disability-adapted communication and problem-solving skills to reduce marital conflict and improve marital satisfaction. Veterans (N=180) with a positive DVBIC screen for mTBI sustained during the OEF/OIF era, confirmed by the VA Identification Clinical Interview and a Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) score e 19 will be randomized to receive either: 1) Multifamily Group for TBI for Couples (MFG-mTBI- C), a psychoeducational, rehabilitation and skills-building intervention consisting of a 2-session multifamily educational workshop providing information about TBI and 12 bi-monthly multifamily group meetings providing skills training in problem-solving and communication related to cognitive/emotional deficits; or 2) 14 bi-monthly multifamily group sessions delivering health education without skills training. Both treatments will be preceded by 2-3 individual couples sessions. Participants will be assessed pre- and post-treatment and 6 months post- treatment. Data will be analyzed using an intent-to-treat analysis with paired comparisons between treatment groups on primary (Veteran CI, caregiver burden) and secondary (anger management, use of social supports) outcome variables using mixed effects regression models. It is hypothesized that: 1) Veterans treated with MFG-mTBI-C will show improved CI, anger management and use of social support, and spouse/partners will show reduced burden compared with those treated in the health education group; 2) that improvement in CI will be mediated by improvement in marital satisfaction and Veteran anger management and social support; 3) that Veterans with more intact cognitive functioning at baseline will show greater improvement in CI, anger management, social support and marital satisfaction. If efficacious, MFG-mTBI-C has the potential to assist Veterans with mTBI and their partners throughout the VA Health Care System.
This project addresses the rehabilitation and mental health needs of married combat Veterans post-deployed from Iraq or Afghanistan with a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) by providing psychoeducation, communication and problem solving skills in a multifamily group (MFG) setting. In this group, Veterans and spouses/cohabiting partners learn customized therapeutic strategies to help compensate for mTBI deficits and promote Veteran community integration, interpersonal and emotion regulation skills, and marital satisfaction. The effectiveness of the skills-based MFG will be compared to that of a health education group which offers a supportive environment and basic education without skills training through a randomized clinical trial. As there is currently no family-based intervention for OEF/OIF Veterans with mTBI offered within the VA spectrum of services, this intervention fills a crucial gap in healthcare for our newest Veterans.