By Ms. Suzanne Ovel (Army Medicine)April 12, 2018
After two years of construction, the Intrepid Spirit Center officially opened its doors on Joint Base Lewis-McChord on April 5.
The $12 million center specializes in treating service members with traumatic brain injuries and related conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain. It is the 6th Intrepid Spirit Center to open nationally, thanks to a partnership between the Army and the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.
"The challenge to care for traumatic brain injury and PTSD is nothing short of staggering. Since 2000, more than 379,000 service members have sustained a traumatic brain injury," said Col. Michael Place, commander of Madigan Army Medical Center. The hospital's staff runs the nearby Intrepid Spirit Center.
"Concussions and more severe brain injuries don't happen in isolation," said Col. Beverly Scott, director of the Intrepid Spirit Center and Madigan's TBI Program. She explained that the center offers a variety of therapeutic tools and approaches because other injuries and behavioral health conditions usually occur with a TBI, often due to the traumatic event that caused the TBI itself.
"I think one of the values of our Intrepid Spirit Center is it allows us to provide interdisciplinary care under one roof," she said. "I'd say in recent years we realized that traditional forms of medical care were not enough."
In addition to more traditional forms of care such as primary care, behavioral health and neurology, the center will also offer acupuncture, chiropractic care, mindfulness-based practices and yoga. These approaches include art therapy as well, thanks to a collaboration with the National Endowment for Arts.
"As we've seen with our Warriors in Transition through programs like the Hot Shop Heroes, the arts can provide a gateway to healing," said Place.
In addition to treating service members, the center plans to help develop better understanding and treatment of TBIs with embedded researchers from the Defense and Brain Injuries Center, and support from the Henry M. Jackson Foundation.
"This will be a place that helps solve the riddles related to traumatic brain injury," said Place, noting that the Intrepid Spirit Center is also one of 22 Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Centers.
Place shared that at the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, one of the primary responses for concussions was simply time for the body to treat itself.
Likewise, service members and their leaders at the frontlines of combat didn't fully realize the compounding impacts of multiple concussions.
"We didn't know back in 2005, fifteen years ago, the lasting impact," said Maj. Gen. Willard Burleson III, commanding general of the 7th Infantry Division. "It's a facility like this that will make a difference."
Now, the medical community encourages service members with TBIs to get care early.
"Many of our Soldiers want to stay in the fight and may delay seeking care, so that's one of the things that we strive to educate not only our Soldiers but our medical military providers as well as our military leaders," said Scott.
A specialized center that offers in-depth, wraparound care can help service members with TBIs -- an "invisible wound" of recent wars -- feel seen.
"The barer of these scars is often isolated, many times out of pride, fear and ignorance. At times, our injuries go unnoticed by those closest to us," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Frederick Macias. "There are no purple hearts for PTSD; there are no tourniquets to reduce the conditions of TBI… These invisible wounds typically don't get recognized until performance drops. The real recognition of these conditions typically happens at treatment centers or programs such as the one I attended here."
After getting treatment at the Intrepid Spirit Center, which opened its doors four months before the official ribbon cutting, Macias said he was able to understand and work through issues that he had compartmentalized for years. Through education, developing relationships and working on himself, Macias now feels that his improvements in his everyday life is his success story.
Even more service members will be able to get specialized care for their TBIs and related conditions as the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund plans to build three more centers at Fort Carson, Colo.; Fort Bliss, Texas; and Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
"What we do to build these things are all paid for by the American people, not by the government, but by the American people and that's very reassuring that this country believes in what we all believe in," said Arnold Fisher, honorary chairman of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. "We're going to keep it going, we're going to build the other three, and we'll complete our mission."
If the other service members who attend the centers get the same experiences as Macias, they'll see them as life-sustaining programs.
"It's a center of hope," he said.