Yesterday, the Department of Defense (DOD) released an article noting the importance of continuing their partnership with Veterans Affairs (VA) departments to “identify and treat traumatic brain injury.” According to the article, representatives of both departments participated in a roundtable discussion on new advances in the field of traumatic brain injury care and their hopes going forward.
One of the topics touched on at the meeting involved the early diagnosis of brain trauma. According to Kathy Helmick, deputy director for TBI at the Defense Centers of Excellence, this includes both “invisible” injuries like concussions, as well as more severe TBIs.
Helmick said that in order to “eliminate undetected mild brain injury,” her group uses “aggressive screening programs.” She also pointed out that many other academic institutions and agencies also partner with the DOD and VA to improve the care for service members with a TBI.
With this cooperation, veterans gain better access to the standardized care Helmick said is so essential. She noted that standardized care is particularly important for those with repeat injuries, which remain poorly understood.
“We know very little from the civilian world about what repeat do over time, what their symptoms and complaints are and how quickly one recovers,” Helmick said.
Trials and Studies
Another research initiative giving service members hope is a cognitive trial which is taking place at the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) in San Antonio. Officials believe this trial will yield a great deal of information for those with concussions.
Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center director, caregivers are essential to wounded service members, though their quality of life is an important consideration as well. This is particularly true because in the military a higher percentage of wounded service members are cared for by their parents.
Preemptive Soldier Training
Grimes also pointed out that soldiers are now receiving preemptive training to both recognize and care for TBI patients. According to Grimes, this training equips soldiers with a greater sense of control before deployment, which is one of the center’s main missions.
The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury also offers vital resources that bring a greater awareness and understanding to TBIs. The center’s educational programs and services include monthly webinars, videos, and a host of other information resources. The wide variety of services available on TBIs offer not only soldiers, but also patients, families, and health professionals access to powerful tools in the fight to provide the care needed for our wounded warriors.
Continuing TBI Care Improvements
A senior VA liaison for TBI explained that the DOD and VA began their partnership into the care of these patients during the first Gulf War. She also noted that when soldiers suffer a TBI, they often have other injuries. She explained that today, “five polytrauma centers are situated regionally across the United States,” each with “video teleconference centers to talk to other medical centers, the patient and families.”
This allows patient medical care to be coordinated between the DOD and VA.
All of these improvements have led to a vastly different VA system from decades ago. Recognizing the importance of identifying TBIs, all service members and veterans today are evaluated for such injuries “regardless of the complaint that brought them to the medical center in the first place.”
Along with the care received at various VA facilities, the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (NICoE) offers patients a comprehensive, month-long program where service members can receive care for their “TBI and post-traumatic psychological ills.” This facility offers an individualized program that includes speech therapy, family counseling, neurology and psychiatric evaluations.
Helmick explains that with these programs and facilities, “We’re trying to change the wave of the past couple of years, and instead of saying, ‘you’re sick, and it’s chronic,’ we’re really trying to keep that expectation of recovery alive.” According to Helmick, this positive mindset is essential to inspire and support service members as they recover.