Rush gets record grant to treat PTSD in military veterans
Rush University Medical Center is getting its biggest gift ever—$45 million from the Wounded Warrior Project to fund mental healthcare for military veterans.
Two years ago the charity gave $15 million to the West Side hospital to start outpatient treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. The new money will expand those efforts.
Of the 262 veterans who underwent a three-week Intensive Outpatient Program, more than 60 percent no longer "meet criteria for PTSD," says Dr. Mark Pollack, chair of Rush's psychiatry department.
One is Dan Gabryszak, who deployed as a staff sergeant to Afghanistan in 2009 two weeks after the birth of his son Colby and "was literally scared for my life every day 24/7." It got worse after he returned home the next year and dreamed of dead and orphaned infants he encountered, this time with his son's face on them.
The Indiana National Guard veteran was referred to Rush by a not-for-profit after 34 weeks of delayed and sporadic treatment by the Department of Veterans Affairs he said was ineffectual.
"The difference between the Rush and the VA—the VA is there to help you manage the symptoms; Rush is there to fix you," he says. "They not only worked on the way I thought, they worked on my spirit and my soul."
Michael Linnington, CEO of the Jacksonville, Fla., based Wounded Warrior Project, said Rush's "phenomenal results" paved the way for additional funding, expected to cover 1,500 more veterans over five years.
"It's just marvelous. When you talk to the veterans—which I have done—they have just been staggered by their feedback," the retired three-star Army general says in an interview. "The treatment really works. We just have to overcome the stigma of not being treated."
Rush is one of four hospitals participating in the Wounded Warrior Network and the first in line for renewed support, he said. The other members are Emory Healthcare in Atlanta, Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and UCLA Health in Los Angeles.
Rush said the grant raises to nearly $86 million the amount donated to the medical center this fiscal year, topping the record $75.2 million in 2005. The largest previous gifts were $20 million from John and Mary Jo Boler in 2005 for advanced imaging equipment and $20 million from Marvin Herb in 2006 for new facilities.
Between 90 percent and 95 percent of participants complete Rush's program, compared with a third who finish behavioral health therapies "strung out months" by the VA, Linnington says. "The beauty of this program, it is an intensive outpatient program. The only thing that separates it from inpatient, they don't sleep at night in the hospital.
Gabryszak, 48, said he relied on a former Special Forces chaplain at Rush who provided "instant credibility" and on therapy with vets like himself in groups of eight to 12. Once homeless and suicidal, he says he continues to seek treatment at Rush while working for a contractor demolishing the Crawford Generating Station in South Lawndale.
The Intensive Outpatient Program is part of Rush's Road Home Program, begun in 2014 with funding from the McCormick Foundation and other donors; it has treated nearly 1,300 veterans and expects to provide therapy and counseling for another 3,500, including family members, over the next five years.
It started after Dr. Pollack came to Rush in 2011 with an interest in replicating a program for veterans he initiated at Mass General, he said.
The Wounded Warrior Project gained notoriety in 2016 with media reports of lavish spending that triggered departures of top executives and a 44 percent decline in contributions, to $211 million, in the two years ended last September.
Linnington, a West Point graduate who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and later led a Pentagon agency seeking to locate POWs and troops missing in action, arrived and cut staff and other overhead. Still, marketing expenses remain necessarily high, he said—up to 23 percent of contributions (expected to rise to $250 million this year), making a top four-star rating from Charity Navigator elusive.
"We have a great need; we need great money to meet that need," he says of fundraising costs. "That makes it difficult to make it to four stars."
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