Robert J Ursano


Department of Primary Appointment:
School of Medicine
Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, Director Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress
Location: Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD
Research Interests:
Disaster Psychiatry
Office Phone


B.S., Magna Cum Laude, University of Notre Dame, 1969
M.D., Yale University, 1973
Psychiatry Resident, Wilford Hall USAF Medical Center, 1973-75
Postdoctoral Fellow (Psychiatry) Yale University & Yale
USAF Primary Course in Aerospace Medicine, Brooks Air Force Base Texas, 1977
Washington Psychoanalytic Institute, 1980-1986 (graduated)


Dr. Ursano is Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at the Uniformed Services University, Bethesda, Maryland. He is founding Director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress and served as the Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at USU for 25 years (1992-2017). In addition, Dr. Ursano is Editor of Psychiatry, the distinguished journal of interpersonal and biological processes, founded by Harry Stack Sullivan. Dr. Ursano completed twenty years of service in USAF medical corps and retired as Colonel in 1991. He was educated at the University of Notre Dame and Yale University School of Medicine and did his psychiatric training at Wilford Hall USAF Medical Center and Yale University.

Dr. Ursano served as the Department of Defense representative to the National Advisory Mental Health Council of the National Institute of Mental Health and is a past member of the Veterans Affairs Mental Health Study Section and the National Institute of Mental Health Rapid Trauma and Disaster Grant Review Section. He is a Distinguished Life Fellow in the American Psychiatric Association. He is a Fellow of the American College of Psychiatrists.Dr. Ursano was the first Chairman of the American Psychiatric Association’s Committee on Psychiatric Dimensions of Disaster. This work greatly aided the integration of psychiatry and public health in times of disaster and terrorism. Dr. Ursano was an invited participant to the White House Mental Health Conference in 1999. He has received the Department of Defense Humanitarian Service Award and the highest award of the International Traumatic Stress Society, The Lifetime Achievement Award, for “outstanding and fundamental contributions to understanding traumatic stress.” He is the recipient of the William C. Porter Award from the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States, and a frequent advisor on issues surrounding psychological response to trauma to the highest levels of the US Government and specifically to the Department of Defense leadership.

Dr. Ursano has served as a member of the National Academies of Science, Institute of Medicine, Committee on Psychological Responses to Terrorism, Committee on PTSD and Compensation and the Committee on Nuclear Preparedness; and the National Institute of Mental Health Task Force on Mental Health Surveillance After Terrorist Attack. In addition he is a member of scientific advisory boards to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control. In 2012, Dr. Ursano was awarded the William C. Menninger Memorial Award for distinguished contributions to the Science of Mental Health by the American College of Physicians. In 2014, Dr. Ursano and Dr. Matthew Friedman of the VA National Center for PTSD co-founded The Leahy-Friedman National PTSD Brain Banksupported through Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). It is the first human brain bank dedicated to PTSD. This joint effort of many people was a 12 year project developing concepts, pilot data and support. Dr. Ursano has more than 300 publications. He is co-author or editor of eight books.

Professional Honors and Recognition
2016 Joseph Tupin Visiting Professor and Invited Lectureship, University of California, Davis
2015 Pellegrino Lectureship, Eastern Virginia Medical University
2014 Uniformed Services University James J. Leonard Award for Excellence in Research
2012 American College of Physicians: William C Menninger Memorial Award for Distinguished Contributions to Mental Health
2008-11 Appointed Mental Health Advisory Subcommittee, National Bioterrorism Science Advisory Board, to Secretary of Health and Human Services
2008-11 Appointed Board of Scientific Counselors, Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response (name changed to Office of Public Health Readiness), CDC, Department of Health and Human Services
2009 AAP Presidential Citation for Contributions to Psychiatric Education, Association of Academic Psychiatry

Representative Biography of over 400 publications
1. Disaster Medicine. Since its inception in 1987, the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress (CSTS) has developed research, training, and consultation programs to mitigate the impact of trauma from exposure to war, disasters, terrorism, community violence, and public health threats. The CSTS has helped to define and advance the integration of disaster psychiatry and military psychiatry. CSTS has been involved in nearly every major disaster our nation has experienced in the past nearly 30 years.
a) Ursano, R. J., Fullerton, C. S., Weisaeth, L., & Raphael, B. (Eds.). (2017). Textbook of Disaster Psychiatry (2nd Ed.). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/9781316481424
b) Fullerton, C. S., Mash, H. B. H., Benevides, K. N., Morganstein, J. C., & Ursano, R. J. (2015). Distress of routine activities and perceived safety associated with post-traumatic stress, depression, and alcohol use: 2002 Washington, D.C, Sniper Attacks. Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, 9(5), 509-515. doi: 10.1017/dmp.2015.67
c) Fullerton, C. S., McKibben, J. B. A., Reissman, D. B., Scharf, T., Kowalski-Trakofler, K. M., Shultz, J. M., & Ursano, R. J. (2013). Posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, alcohol and tobacco use in public health workers following the 2004 Florida hurricanes. Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, 7(1), 89-95. doi: 10.1017/dmp.2013.6
d) Grieger, T. A., Fullerton, C. S., & Ursano, R. J. (2003). Posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, alcohol use, and perceived safety thirteen months following the terrorist attack on the Pentagon. Psychiatric Services, 54(10), 1380-1383.
2. Risk and protective factors for psychological and behavioral outcomes following traumatic events. Studies examining military and civilian populations exposed to traumatic events has led to research that seeks to identify risk factors for adverse psychological and behavioral outcomes, including posttraumatic stress and depressive symptoms, problematic alcohol use, and suicidal behaviors, as well as protective factors that promote resilience following trauma exposure.
a) Ursano, R. J., Kessler, R. C., Naifeh, J. A., Herberman Mash, H., Fullerton, C. S., Bliese, P. D., Zaslavsky, A. M., Ng, T. H. H., Aliaga, P. A., Wynn, G. H., Dinh, H. M., McCarroll, J. E., Sampson, N. A., Kao, T. C., Schoenbaum, M., Heeringa, S. G., & Stein, M. B. (2017). Risk of suicide attempt among Soldiers in Army units with a history of suicide attempts. JAMA Psychiatry. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.1925
b) Ursano, R. J., Kessler, R. C., Stein, M. B., Naifeh, J. A., Aliago P. A., Fullerton, C. S., Wynn, G. H., Vegella P. L., Ng, T., Zhang, B. G., Wryter, C. L., Sampson N. A., Kao, T. C., Colpe, L. J., Schoenbaum, M., McCarroll J. E., Cox, K. L., & Heeringa, S., & on behalf of the Army STARRS collaborators (2016). Deployment, mental health, and suicide attempts among U.S. Army soldiers: Risk factors, methods, and time, JAMA Psychiatry, 73(7), 741-749. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.0600
c) Fink, D. S., Lowe, S., Cohen, G. H., Sampson, L. A., Ursano, R. J., Gifford, R. K., Fullerton, C. S., & Galea, S. (2016). Trajectories of posttraumatic stress symptoms after civilian or deployment traumatic event experiences. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice and Policy, 9(2), 138-146. doi: 10.1037/tra0000147
d) Campbell-Sills, L, Ursano, R. J., Kessler, R. C., Sun, X., Heeringa, S. G., Nock, M. K., Sampson, N.A., Jain, S., and Stein, M.B. (in press). Prospective risk factors for post-deployment heavy drinking and alcohol or substance use disorder among U.S. Army soldiers. Psychological Medicine.

3. Identifying biomarkers for posttraumatic stress disorder. Our study of the neuroscience and neurobiology of stress and trauma has translated into health care applications for military and civilian populations, with a specific focus on posttraumatic stress disorder, mild traumatic brain injury, and suicide and suicide-related behaviors. Recent research has focused on genetic biomarkers, cortisol levels, and telomere length. Biomarker research has involved the purification of DNA from saliva samples and blood samples collected from Soldiers, and genotyping the DNA for several target genes including BDNF and FKBP5.
a) Stein, M. B., Chen, C.-Y., Ursano, R. J., Cai, T., Gelernter, J., Heeringa, S. G., Jain, S., Jensen, K. P., Maihofer, A. X., Mitchell, C., Nievergelt, C. M., Nock, M. K., Neale, B. M., Polimanti, R., Ripke, S., Sun, X., Thomas, M. L., Wang, Q., Ware, E. B., Borja, S., Kessler, R. C., & Smoller, J. W. (2016). Genome-wide Association Studies of posttraumatic stress disorder in 2 cohorts of U.S. Army Soldiers. JAMA Psychiatry, 73(7), 695-704. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.0350.
b) Zhang, L., Hu, X. Z., Benedek, D. M., Fullerton, C. S., Forsten, R. D., Naifeh, J. A., Li, X., Li, H., Benevides, K. N., Smerin, S., Le, T., Choi, K., & Ursano, R. J. (2014). The interaction between stressful life events and leukocyte telomere length is associated with PTSD. Molecular Psychiatry, 19(8), 855-856. doi: 10.1038/mp.2013.14
c) Choi, K., Le, T., Xing, G., Johnson, L. R., & Ursano, R. J. (2011). Analysis of kinase gene expression in the frontal cortex of suicide victims: Implications of fear and stress. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 5, 46. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2011.00046
d) Zhang, L., Su, T. P., Choi, K., Webster, M., Li, C. T., Chung, M. Y., Chen, Y. S., Bai, Y., Chou, Y., Barker, J., Barrett, J. E., Li, X., H., Benedek, D. M., & Ursano, R. J. (2011). P11 (S100A10) as a potential biomarker of psychiatric patients at risk of suicide. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 45(4), 435-441. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2010.08.01

4. Translating empirical findings to recommendations for intervention. CSTS laboratory and clinical research actively identifies effective interventions for trauma and stress-related disorders and suicidal behaviors.
a) Ursano, R. J., Goldenberg, M., Zhang, L., Carlton, J., Fullerton, C. S., Li, H., Johnson, L., & Benedek, D. M. (2010). Posttraumatic stress disorder and traumatic stress: From bench to bedside, from war to disaster. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1208, 72-81. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2010.05721.x
b) Forbes, D., Creamer, M., Bisson, J., Cohen, J., Crow, B., Foa, E., Friedman, M., Keane, T., Kudler, H., & Ursano, R. J. (2010). A guide to guidelines for the treatment of PTSD and related conditions. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 23(5), 537-562. doi: 10.1002/jts.20565
c) Benedek, D. M. & Ursano, R. J. (2009). Understanding PTSD: From phenomenology to clinical practice. Focus, 7(2), 160-175.
d) Ursano, R. J., Zhang, L., Li, H., Johnson, L., Carlton, J., Fullerton, C. S. & Benedek, D. M. (2009). PTSD and traumatic stress from gene to community and bench to bedside. Brain Research, 1293, 2-12.

5. Suicidal behaviors and predictive modeling. Army STARRS (2009-2015) and STARRS-LS (2014-2019) were designed to comprehensively examine the mental health and resilience of Soldiers, and is the largest research study ever conducted among military personnel. One of the studies was an historical cohort study of more than 1.6 million Soldiers on active duty from 2004-2009. The Army STARRS/STARRS-LS research includes questionnaires, neurocognitive tests, blood collection, state-of-the-art genetic and other biomarker assays, and linking these data to existing Army/DoD records, producing large and risk datasets to serve the goals of the study as well as broader goals involving other mental health outcomes.
a). Kessler, R. C., Stein, M. B., Petukhova, M. V., Bliese, P., Bossarte, R. M., Bromet, E. J., Fullerton, C. S., Gilman, S. E., Ivany, C., Lewandowski-Romps, L., Bell, A. M., Naifeh, J. A., Nock, M. K., Reis, B. Y., Rosellini, A. J., Sampson, N. A., Zaslavsky, A. M., Ursano, R. J., & Army STARRS Collaborators (2017). Predicting suicides after outpatient mental health visits in the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS). Molecular Psychiatry, 22(4), 544-551. doi: 10.1038/mp.2016.110
b) Ursano, R. J., Kessler, R. C., Stein, M. B., Naifeh, J. A., Nock, M. K., Aliaga, P. A., Fullerton, C. S., Wynn, G. H., Ng, T. H. H., Dinh, H. M., Sampson, N. A., Kao, T. C., Schoenbaum, M., McCarroll, J. E., Cox, K. L., & Heeringa, S. G., on behalf of the Army STARRS collaborators (2016). Medically documented suicide ideation among U.S. Army Soldiers. Suicide & Life-Threatening Behavior. doi: 10.1111/stlb.12316
c) Ursano, R. J., Kessler, R. C., Herringa, S. G., Cox, K. L., Naifeh, J. A., Fullerton, C. S., Sampson, N. A., Kao, T., Aliaga, P. A., Vegella, P. A., Mash, H., Buckley, C., Colpe, L. J., Schoenbaum, M., & Stein, M. B. (2015). Non-fatal suicidal behaviors in U.S. Army administrative records, 2004-2009: Results from the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS). Psychiatry, 78(1), 1-21. doi: 10.1080/00332747.2015.1006512
d) Nock, M. K., Stein, M. B., Heeringa, S. G., Ursano, R. J., Colpe, L. J., Fullerton, C. S., Hwang, I., Naifeh, J. A., Sampson, N. A., Schoenbaum, M., Zaslavsky, A. M., & Kessler, R. C. (2014). Prevalence and correlates of suicidal behavior among soldiers: Results from the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS). JAMA Psychiatry, 71(5), 514-522.

Representative publications, projects, and/or deployments

see biography below