WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 15, 2010) -- The Army surgeon general told members of Congress, April 13, that the Defense Centers of Excellence, especially for psychological health and traumatic brain injury, provide great promise for wounded warriors.

Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker appeared before the House Armed Services Committee's military personnel subcommittee, along with the surgeons general for the Navy and Air Force and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Charles Rice.

The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, the first of five medical entities stood up as a result of the 2009 Defense Authorization Act, is already contributing to the treatment of battlefield injuries, Schoomaker said.

This center has a 24-hour hotline available to servicemembers and their families to help with suicide prevention, brain injuries and other problems. Trained consultants staff the line 365 days a year at 1-866-966-1020 and also respond via e-mail to Resources@DCoEOutreach.org and the Web site: www.dcoe.health.mil.

"These are not brick and mortar centers," Schoomaker explained. "We avoided deliberately the attempt to put structure -- physical structure -- where it was not needed."

Instead, he explained that the centers are a medium to share research, prevention, management and treatment of blast injuries.

"Perhaps the greatest contribution offered by these centers will be their role as a conduit for a two-way dialogue, receiving external expertise from federal agencies and private industry and academia, and communicating the department's internal perspective...." Schoomaker said.

"These centers serve as what I call a catcher's mitt - a single point of contact for vetting new ideas, for synchronizing competing interests, for standardizing evidence-based practices and clinical guidelines," he said.

For instance, the Army has partnered with the National Institute of Mental Health for a five-year study on suicide prevention and a major survey will soon be launched in conjunction with this, Army officials announced this week.

More has been accomplished with the centers of excellence "than maybe readily apparent to many folks," Schoomaker said. He said the sharing of knowledge to improve battlefield medicine and evacuation has contributed to an unprecedented survival rate for battlefield injuries.

Creation of the Joint Theater Trauma Registry has been a tremendous contribution to battlefield medicine and follow-up care, he said.

He explained the registry enables caregivers to look comprehensively across all services and all venues on traumatic care and said it's "almost unprecedented."

"We've essentially established what a large metropolitan community in the United States would have, but across three continents and 8,000 miles," he said.

Blast injuries are having an unprecedented impact on servicemembers after almost nine years of war, Schoomaker said.

"I've rejected the notion that we have a signature injury of this war," Schoomaker said. "We have a signature weapon of this war - and it's blast. But blast burns, it blinds, it deafens, it takes off limbs, it causes enormous extremity injury."

Schoomaker, Rice and the other surgeons general all agreed that the different Defense Centers of Excellence will all help with the treatment for blast injuries. Rice pointed out that progress is being made to establish Defense Centers of Excellence for Vision; Hearing; and Traumatic Injuries and Amputations. He also said the National Intrepid Center of Excellence will open in Bethesda, Md., June 30.