You may never have heard of it, but one of the best places in the world to be treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), mild traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma, and other anxiety-related disorders is located right here in Atlanta through the Emory Healthcare Veterans Program (EHVP). This world class program offers intensive two-week outpatient treatment (IOP) with zero out-of-pocket costs for post 9/11 qualifying veterans. Free treatment is available to service members living anywhere in the United States regardless of discharge status, deployment history, or length of service.

“It’s a cliché to say we are PTSD’s best kept secret, but frankly, it’s true,” says EHVP’s founding Executive Director, Barbara Rothbaum. She is a PhD and clinical professor in psychiatry at Emory School of Medicine who began researching PTSD immediately out of graduate school when the first grants to treat the disorder became available. Dr. Rothbaum has authored over 200 scientific papers and six books on anxiety and is a pioneer in the application of virtual reality to the treatment of psychological disorders. 

Though PTSD has always been with us, it didn’t become an official medical diagnosis until 1980 in the post-Vietnam years. “PTSD is the story of King Lear, it’s the story of ‘shell shock’ in World War I veterans, and the story of trauma in rape victims,” Dr. Rothbaum says. “It is a terrible disorder to have, and terrible for loved ones. What I’ve learned through my work is that the human spirit is incredibly resilient. There is so much hope today because PTSD treatment really is effective.”

The program at EHVP treats PTSD using exposure therapy — directly facing a feared object, situation, or activity in real life. This method recognizes that fear is a normal response to trauma but understands that some people will do everything they can (including substance abuse) to avoid their pain. “When the fear does not extinguish, the disorder festers, often resulting in PTSD,” explains Dr. Rothbaum. “We believe that  people need to emotionally process what happened to them. We make them confront the pain.” 

Under Dr. Rothbaum’s leadership, EHVP is recognized as an innovator in PTSD treatment. In 1995 Dr. Rothbaum published the first paper on using virtual reality to treat veterans. In the Emory program, virtual scenes of conflict in Vietnam and Afghanistan help patients visually and viscerally confront their past trauma. Today this technology is used widely, and just recently, EHVP had a manual translated into Hebrew for trauma victims of Hamas’ October 7 attack and has published a self-help book called Making Meaning of Difficult Experiences.

“As a practitioner I often feel like I hold someone’s heart in my hand. It’s so rewarding when they get better. We hear from our patients and their families that the program is transformative. One spouse told us, ‘I felt like I got my husband back, and our daughters say they got their dad back.’ 

EHVP is funded entirely by grants and private philanthropy. The program also is committed to training the next generation of mental health care providers and has trained more than 60 postdoctoral students, practicum students, psychiatry residents, preceptors, and social work interns.

Please consider making a a gift to EHVP via your donor-advised fund. Don’t have one yet? Sign up here.