Since 2001, nearly 320,000 American soldiers, sailors, airmen and women, Marines and Coast Guard personnel have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. TBI was once considered untreatable.
But if all works out, by the end of 2016 four new military sites will be providing treatment that has successfully returned up to 92% of TBI military sufferers who have experienced it to full active duty, ready to handle the demands of family, community and career. Seven years ago, a private foundation—the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund—asked a team of military and civilian brain specialists including myself to develop a new standard of care for brain afflictions. It was the first step in designing a dedicated TBI treatment and research facility that the fund was planning to build. Federal, academic and industry partners formed a hub of intellectual exchange to utilize the latest technical and clinical resources. This model of unifying resources allowed for cutting-edge research and clinical care in TBI treatments for patients unable to respond to conventional therapy. It's a collaborative approach that should be embraced inside and outside of healthcare.
Working with Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund architects, we developed a building the very shape of which was sculpted to implement our protocols. The National Intrepid Center of Excellence is now on the campus of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center outside of Washington.
Our treatment protocols were unlike any that a traditional military or civilian program would have produced. Using the most advanced findings of the brain's functioning and self-healing capacities, we developed an unprecedented-in-its-scope multidisciplinary approach to brain trauma. Every technique that had promise in stimulating the brain to heal itself was incorporated. These ranged from advanced neuroimaging and virtual reality simulation to acupuncture and art therapy. We designed the system to be dynamic, taking advantage of developments in brain science as they emerged and linking treatment and response data in a continuous-improvement feedback loop.
Each entering patient was to be assigned a caregiving team. A typical team's expertise ranged from neuroplasticity of the brain to spiritual counseling. The members were to meet jointly with the newly admitted and develop a program that accounted for both reported symptoms and their own observations. Then they were to implement the program.