The new National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, Md., will improve the ability of military and civilian health care providers to treat traumatic brain injuries and psychological disorders in war veterans, Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III said at the center’s opening ceremony June 24.
Lynn joined military leaders, civilian dignitaries, wounded warriors and their families for the ceremony to mark what officials describe as new and unprecedented research, diagnosis and treatment for the "invisible wounds" of war.
The center, located on the National Naval Medical Center grounds, will serve as a hub for service members and their families to get better diagnosis and treatment than are available at their local military installation, Lynn said.
The 72,000-square-foot center is one of six created under the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, established in 2007 to lead Defense Department work on brain science and treatment in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as academia and other institutions.
The fund raising efforts to raise the more than $60 million to construct the state-of-art center were spearheaded by the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund that also built the Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
The fund’s chairman, Richard T. Santulli, and its honorary chairman, Arnold Fisher, said in a joint statement: "We and all the members of the of the Board of Trustees of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund are proud that this center – a model of public-private partnership – has been completed on time, and on budget, and stands ready to begin its crucial work.
"We look forward to the progress that will be made in this spectacular facility and to the help it will bring to those who have sacrificed so much for our nation."
Kenneth Fisher, chairman of the Fisher House Foundation, said at the ceremony, "The concept of this center is an idea whose time has come" to treat and rehabilitate service members and veterans suffering from the "unseen wounds of war – wounds that are not apparent to the naked eye."
Lynn also recognized Arnold Fisher and his son, Ken, who started The Fisher House Foundation that is currently building a third Fisher House at the National Naval Medical Center specifically for families of patients at the center.
Studies show that more than 10 percent of military members who served in Iraq suffered concussions, and at least 12 percent show significant signs of combat stress, depression or similar issues, Lynn said. "They’ll need care long after the wars are over," he added.
Combat veterans with brain injuries and psychological problems "face a battle for recovery that is as arduous as their time deployed," Lynn said. "We as a department recognize that our obligation to our heroes does not end when they leave the battlefield."
Lynn called brain injuries and psychological problems an "inevitable consequence of combat" that deserves as much attention as any other injury.
No one understands that better than the health care team at the Intrepid Center, he said. The team, many of them from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, has developed exam protocols for early diagnoses, and post-deployment screening for TBI that have been adopted by some NATO countries, he said.
"No one is more supportive of the mission of the center" than Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Lynn said, adding that Gates deeply regretted he had to cancel his appearance at the ceremony due to the situation surrounding the need for a change of command in Afghanistan.
Tammy Duckworth, Department Veterans Affairs’ assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs, said the center is critical for helping wounded warriors return to duty.
Duckworth was an Army major with the Illinois National Guard when the helicopter she was flying over Iraq in 2004 was struck by enemy fire. She lost both legs and partial use of one arm in the crash.
"This Center for the Intrepid is going to be the place where wounded warriors are going to face some of the hardest things they’ve ever faced – harder than they ever faced in combat," Duckworth said. But, she added, the center also is "a place of hope and jobs – and a place for families."
"There is nothing we can’t do as service members without our family members standing next to us," she said.
Navy Rear Adm. (Dr.) Matthew L. Nathan, commander of the National Naval Medical Center, said the center will combine the science of brain imaging with the art of compassion in a healing environment that "draws on all the senses."
The private donations to construct the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund also includes $10 million for the latest imaging equipment that allows healthcare providers and researchers with the ability to see inside the brain for better diagnosis and treatment.
"When you see this facility for the first time, you see hope," Nathan said. "We cannot always be the savior, we cannot always be the cure, but we can always be there. And we will never, ever stop trying until we can be the cure."
(Editor’s note: This story is based on an article by Lisa Daniel, American Forces Press Service.)