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Clinical Trial Summary

In this proposal, the investigators extend their previous SPiRE feasibility and preliminary effectiveness study to examine STEP-Home efficacy in a RCT design. This novel therapy will target the specific needs of a broad range of underserved post-9/11 Veterans. It is designed to foster reintegration by facilitating meaningful improvement in the functional skills most central to community participation: emotional regulation (ER), problem solving (PS), and attention functioning (AT). The skills trained in the STEP-Home workshop are novel in their collective use and have not been systematically applied to a Veteran population prior to the investigators' SPiRE study. STEP-Home will equip Veterans with skills to improve daily function, reduce anger and irritability, and assist reintegration to civilian life through return to work, family, and community, while simultaneously providing psychoeducation to promote future engagement in VA care.

The innovative nature of the STEP-Home intervention is founded in the fact that it is: (a) an adaptation of an established and efficacious intervention, now applied to post-9/11 Veterans; (b) nonstigmatizing (not "therapy" but a "skills workshop" to boost acceptance, adherence and retention); (c) transdiagnostic (open to all post-9/11 Veterans with self-reported reintegration difficulties; Veterans often have multiple mental health diagnoses, but it is not required for enrollment); (d) integrative (focus on the whole person rather than specific and often stigmatizing mental and physical health conditions); (e) comprised of Veteran-specific content to teach participants cognitive behavioral skills needed for successful reintegration (which led to greater acceptability in feasibility study); (f) targets anger and irritability, particularly during interactions with civilians; (g) emphasizes psychoeducation (including other available treatment options for common mental health conditions); and (h) challenges beliefs/barriers to mental health care to increase openness to future treatment and greater mental health treatment utilization. Many Veterans who participated in the development phases of this workshop have gone on to trauma or other focused therapies, or taken on vocational (work/school/volunteer) roles after STEP-Home.

The investigators have demonstrated that the STEP-Home workshop is feasible and results in pre-post change in core skill acquisition that the investigators demonstrated to be directly associated with post-workshop improvement in reintegration status in their SPiRE study. Given the many comorbidities of this cohort, the innovative treatment addresses multiple aspects of mental health, cognitive, and emotional function simultaneously and bolsters reintegration in a short-term group to maximize cost-effectiveness while maintaining quality of care.

Clinical Trial Description

Post-9/11 Veterans who served in OEF/OIF face many challenges as they re-enter civilian life after structured military careers. Yet, underutilization and resistance to mental health treatment remains a significant problem. Recent investigations of community reintegration problems among returning Veterans found that half of combat Veterans who use Veterans Administration (VA) services reported difficulty in readjusting to civilian life, including difficulty in social functioning, productivity in work and school settings, community involvement, and self-care domains. High rates of marital, family, and cohabitation discord were reported, with 75% reporting a family conflict in the last week. At least one-third reported divorce, dangerous driving and risky behaviors, increased substance use, and impulsivity and anger control problems since deployment. Almost all Veterans expressed interest in receiving services to help readjust to civilian life, and receiving reintegration services at a VA facility was reported as the preferred way to receive help. Mental health and anger problems are often cited as driving Veterans' difficulties readjusting to civilian life. Anger is becoming more widely recognized for its involvement in the psychological adjustment problems of post-9/11 Veterans. Research has shown that anger directly influences treatment outcome. In fact, history of untreated PTSD and aggression have been demonstrated to be pervasive among post-9/11 Veterans who die by suicide in the months before death. Veterans with probable PTSD report more reintegration and anger problems, and greater interest in services than Veterans without. Reintegration and anger problems continue for years post-combat and may not resolve without intervention.

Research on TBI in post-9/11 Veterans underscores the need for programs that utilize an interdisciplinary approach to reintegration. Programs designed to address challenges of Veterans as they reintegrate in vocational environments, particularly integrative approaches, are greatly needed. The STEP-Home intervention provides such a program. STEP-Home includes focused cognitive and emotional regulation skills training and is informed by the most recent research with returning Veterans and available programs focused on reintegration in VA and military settings (e.g., Battlemind training).

Phase 1: Years 1 and 2 The investigators will initiate the study at the Boston VAMC and develop Standard Operating Procedures for the addition of site 2 in Phase 2.

Phase 2: Years 3 and 4 The investigators will initiate the study at the second site, the Houston VAMC, in Year 3. The investigators will apply in Year 2 for IRB approval to initiate site 2.

Hypotheses & Aims

Primary Aim 1. Examine treatment effects of STEP-Home on primary outcomes relative to Present Centered Group Therapy (PCGT):

Hypothesis 1A. Participants randomized into the STEP-Home intervention will show improvement on reintegration, readjustment, and anger post-intervention (expressed by lower scores; less difficulty).

Military to Civilian Questionnaire (M2CQ), Post-Deployment Readjustment Inventory (PDRI), and State-Trait Anger Expression Inventory (STAXI-2) scores post-intervention (T4) < baseline (T1)

Hypothesis 1B. Participants randomized into STEP-Home will show greater improvement in primary outcomes as compared to PCGT.

Change scores baseline (T1) to post-intervention (T4) STEP-Home > PCGT change scores Post-intervention (T4) primary outcome scores STEP-Home < PCGT primary outcome scores (T4)

Primary Aim 2. Examine maintenance of treatment effects on primary outcomes:

Hypothesis 2: Treatment effects will be maintained at follow up in both groups. Differential treatment effect of STEP-Home over PCGT post-intervention (T4) will be maintained at follow up (T5).

Exploratory Aim 1. Explore treatment effects of STEP-Home on measures of mental health, functional and vocational status and cognitive secondary outcomes targeted indirectly in the workshop.

Exploratory Hypothesis 1. Acquisition of core skills (problem solving, emotional regulation, attention training) will mediate the effect of treatment on primary outcomes post-intervention and at follow up.

The successful completion of the aims proposed has the potential to significantly improve skills to foster civilian reintegration in post-9/11Veterans. Furthermore, the STEP-Home SPiRE feasibility study demonstrated that the workshop also serves as a gateway for Veterans who are hesitant to participate in traditional mental health treatments to promote openness and engagement in additional, critically needed, VA services. Given the high rate of treatment resistance in this cohort, developing acceptable interventions that promote treatment engagement and retention, and open the door to future VA care, is necessary to improve functional status and to reduce long-term healthcare costs of untreated mental health illnesses. ;

Study Design

Related Conditions & MeSH terms

NCT number NCT03868930
Study type Interventional
Source VA Office of Research and Development
Contact Catherine B Fortier, PhD
Phone (857) 364-4361
Status Recruiting
Phase N/A
Start date April 1, 2019
Completion date March 31, 2023

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