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November 06
How Art is Helping Veterans Overcome PTSD

Approximately 2.6 million United States service members were deployed to serve in the military from 2001 to 2011, during the period of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). And research suggests that 10–18% of veterans from those operations return home with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Intense and debilitating fear, depression, negative moods, and nightmares interrupt their daily lives.

Among the various clinical techniques and tools used to treat service members with PTSD, art therapy is a strong option. A 2012–14 survey at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE, the outpatient clinic dedicated to treatment of Traumatic Brain Injuries at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland) ranked art therapy among the top five most helpful techniques used to treat veterans.

NICoE is one of 11 sites across the U.S. that hosts Creative Forces, the creative arts therapy initiative launched by the National Endowment for the Arts and Department of Defense, which employs art therapy, music therapy, and dance therapy to treat psychological disorders related to post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). In addition to these clinical sites across the country, and one telehealth program to help service members living outside of those communities, the initiative also funds research in the field.

new article published in the International Journal of Art Therapy by researchers and art therapists of Creative Forces reports fresh evidence pointing to the positive effects of art therapy on U.S. military service members with TBIs and PTSD.

“The art therapy journey serves as an agent of change,” the authors write, “during which [service members] establish a new sense of self as creator rather than destroyer, as productive and efficacious instead of broken, as connected to others as opposed to isolated, and in control of their future, not controlled by their past.”

The program officially launched in 2011, but its efforts can be traced back to 2004, when the NEA partnered with the Department of Defense to create an expressive writing program called Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience. That successful initiative became part of formal medical protocol, among other therapeutic activities for troops returning from active duty, and it paved the way for the Creative Forces pilot program at NICoE.

The second outpost of Creative Forces followed soon after at the Intrepid Spirit Center at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Virginia. The success of those programs led to a significant funding and expansion in 2016; the NEA received $1.92 million from congress for Creative Forces that year, in addition to the initiative’s existing annual appropriation. The total budget for the fiscal year that recently finished was $2.6 million. That funding covers the salaries of creative arts therapists as well as equipment and supplies at the clinical sites, the telehealth program, research, and the creation of a digital toolkit for community sites. The NEA projects that beginning in 2018 creative art therapists of Creative Forces will deliver an estimated 1,000 treatment sessions per year, and will enroll around 200 new patients per year.

 Service members living near or being treated at Fort Belvoir work with art therapist Jacqueline Jones, who has been working with Creative Forces since 2013. There, Jones runs a fully-stocked art studio where she conducts three levels of programs, ranging from a three-week-long introductory course of “instinctive, spontaneous, process-oriented artmaking” to an open studio setting, where patients work side by side on their own long-term, self-directed projects.

Artmaking in the introductory course includes decorating a blank mask and other activities meant to surface underlying stressors. “You go with the flow and let the art lead you,” Jones explains, “then when you finish, you take a step back and we process it together. We delve into the symbolism of the colors and images used, and look at the orientation of everything on the canvas or page, and see what it reveals.”

She points to these artworks as particularly important when treating “invisible injuries,” a way to access “something concrete and tangible to explain and express their experience with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress—things that other people can’t see or understand.”

Most patients continue on to the second level: a six-week program of group and individual sessions, where patients work on a series of drawing and expressive writing tasks, and the creation of a box meant to celebrate or commemorate something. “We use art in different ways to process specific traumatic events, to grieve specific losses, or to work through moral injury or identity issues,” Jones says.

The third tier of therapy is an open studio program that allows vets to “continue to bond and develop camaraderie and community, while also allowing them to develop their own personal artistic identities,” Jones notes. One patient who has progressed through this level, Mike Goodrich, will have his first solo show this month at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Maryland.

Different patients have different needs. “It really matters how long they’re seen in our clinic and what their goals for treatment and recovery are,” Jones says.

For example, a service member who is having angry outbursts in public might enter the clinic looking to gain emotional regulation. “He knows that that’s a behavior he wants to stop but he doesn’t know how,” Jones explains. “Through art therapy we can do things to work towards that goal, such as figuring out what someone’s particular triggers are or really uncovering what is underlying the anger.” Once the patient is able to identify those triggers, they’re better prepared to process whatever is inciting the anger and to recognize in the moment that they’re experiencing that trigger. “They can emotionally regulate and calm themselves down before having a reaction that they don’t want to have,” she explains.

Other patients with symptoms of post-traumatic stress might be looking to lessen nightmares and improve their quality of sleep. “In that case we may be using art to process specific traumatic events to a place where they come to resolution,” Jones says, “so that they may move to a place where they might dream about those things, but it becomes more like they’re watching a movie instead of actively being in the middle of the event occurring over and over.”

Communication is a common treatment goal, especially in regard to communicating with family members. “A lot of the art they create is a really good externalization of what they’re going through and it helps them gain insight into what’s really underlying their issues, symptoms, and behaviors and so it first and foremost gives them great insight into self.”

Jones recalls helping a specific patient at Fort Belvoir work through a traumatic event and the associated negative emotions. “At a certain point he just looked up at me and he said, ‘I like myself now,” Jones recalls.

While many patients who meet their treatment goals stop engaging in art therapy, some continue on an ongoing basis. “Artmaking is their primary method of processing things that happened in the past but also processing the present,” Jones explains. “It’s their way of maintaining well-being.”

Jones also collects data from her patients in order to determine how valuable art therapy is to them. “What has come back so far is that the majority of patients attribute or credit art therapy with increasing their ability to experience positive emotions and their self-concept,” she attests.

Recently, Creative Forces has begun to organize summits that bring together creative arts therapists, researchers, and military personnel to discuss and assess this research, and to determine what future studies should address.

Dr. Girija Kaimal, an art therapy researcher at Drexel University (one of the few schools with art therapy Ph.D. programs) has been working with Creative Forces since 2013. Her scholarship, undertaken in partnership with Jones and fellow art therapists Melissa S. Walker and Jessica Masino Drass, has been based upon the artwork and clinical notes coming out of Fort Belvoir and NICoE. One major project set out to analyze 370 artist-made masks created at the two sites.  The clinicians had noticed certain recurrences over time, Kaimal explains, so they devised a way to analyze the masks systematically, looking for patterns among the ways that service members with TBIs and PTSD had represented themselves.

In the mask’s imagery, researchers found representations of people who had died, as well as allusions to damaged relationships, a sense of belonging and community, pop culture figures, an overall injured sense of self, and broad existential concerns. They were able to take this visual data and compare it with clinical data. “This is where we’re being very innovative,” Kaimal explains. “There’s very little done on how visual representations might relate to people’s psychological health and wellbeing.”

"What we are finding is that when people represent a whole image or an image that is integrated, that’s usually indicative of better psychological health,” she continues, “whereas images that are very fragmented tend to be associated with worse outcomes.”

Kaimal notes that future research based on artworks will look at a patient’s artistic output over time, through the course of the clinical program; and they will also collect, analyze, and compare data collected from the various Creative Forces sites.

Creative Forces is playing an important role not just for service members, Kaimal emphasizes, but for the art therapy profession at large. “One of the challenges in our field is that because it’s been mainly clinical and there are only a handful of Ph.D.s, so we haven’t had enough capacity for research,” Kaimal explains. “What Creative Forces offers is funding for research, which is quite scarce for creative art therapy. And we are able to do larger-scale studies—things at a scale that we’ve never been able to do before.”


 Original article can be found​ here​

October 20
What Is Art Therapy? And How Is It Helping People?

On Wednesday morning, Second Lady Karen Pence held a press conference at Florida State University to outline how and why she will promote art therapy in the United States during her time in the White House. Her platform, officially known as Art Therapy: Healing with the HeART, aims to help Americans understand and access the benefits of art therapy and to stimulate interest among young people to pursue careers in the field.

“From children with cancer to struggling teens to grieving families to people with autism, to military service members experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to those with eating disorders…art therapy is changing lives and it is saving lives,” Pence said. A longtime art educator and painter, the Second Lady has been involved in art therapy initiatives for over a decade, working first with Tracy’s Kids, a D.C.-based nonprofit that administers art therapy to children with cancer, and later, steering fundraising efforts to bring art therapists to an Indiana children’s hospital.

Over the next three years, Pence aims to increase awareness and advocate for more research in art therapy by traveling to programs across the U.S. and abroad and meeting with stakeholders. (However, not every member of the profession is comfortable working in tandem with the current administration.)

“This attention is absolutely unprecedented,” says Dr. Donna Betts, president of the board of the American Art Therapy Association (AATA), who is a practicing art therapist and an associate professor in the art therapy program at George Washington University. “In this country, there has never been any national figurehead that has drawn this much attention to art therapy.”

In light of the announcement, and the potential impact the initiative could have on the field, we spoke with Betts to learn what art therapy is, exactly, and how it exists in the United States.

What is art therapy?

AATA defines art therapy as “a regulated, integrative mental health and human services profession,” which “uniquely promotes the ability to unlock emotional expression by facilitating non-verbal as well as verbal communication.”

The first of Pence’s three goals in her initiative is “to elevate the profession so that people understand that art therapy is a mental health profession, and not arts and crafts.” Confusion surrounding what art therapy is, and what it is not, is a frequent hurdle, Betts affirms.

“A lot of mental health professionals—social workers, counselors, psychologists—will have art materials in their offices; sometimes a psychologist will have a patient make a drawing. That's fine, but that's not art therapy,” Betts explains. “What’s important to distinguish is that in our profession, our students and professionals have had the requisite, in-depth training in understanding the implications and the power of different art materials and the artmaking process.”

And while sitting at home and dabbling with watercolors may feel therapeutic, that’s not art therapy either. Art therapy requires a client, a trained therapist, and the art itself.

Betts notes that qualified practitioners have expertise in both psychological theory and artmaking. They are prepared for scenarios where a patient may express that they’d prefer not to make art that day, in which case “the session becomes more of a psychotherapeutic experience,” Betts explains, “where we may just talk about whatever is bothering the client.”

An inclusive and expansive field, art therapy has been used in diverse settings to help individuals and groups work towards greater emotional, physical, and mental wellness. In the U.S., according to AATA, art therapists work at hospitals, schools, veterans’ clinics, psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities, community clinics, crisis centers, forensic institutions, senior communities, museums, and in private practices. It’s proven useful for communities in the aftermath of devastating natural disasters or terrorism, as well as prison inmates and those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s, to name a few. Research has illustrated art therapy’s efficacy in various scenarios: from improving mood among healthy adults, to helping troubled youth stay in school, to contributing to better physical well-being among HIV and AIDS patients.

Individuals looking to find and access an art therapist near them can do so through AATA’s website and those of its state chapters (not every state has a chapter due to the small number of art therapists in some states). Additionally, the website of the Art Therapy Credentials Board can be used to seek out art therapists and check their credentials.

What happens during an art therapy session?

Betts warns that due to the wide range of people that art therapists work with, and thus the variety of treatment goals, there is no formulaic approach to art therapy. She notes that there are, however, shared techniques that individual art therapists employ.

One example she gives is working in a small group setting with three children with autism, where the main treatment goal was to improve socialization. Betts employed a mural exercise with them, which required them to work together on a large sheet of paper. “They had to learn how to be cooperative, how to communicate, all through the process of creating a mural.” A secondary benefit of the exercise was that it helped the children learn how to use new materials, addressing “social-emotional goals, fine motor control, and sensory motor goals.”

Certain populations call for an entirely different approach. Betts gives the example of working with a group of people with eating disorders, primarily young women, which requires a more in-depth art psychotherapy approach. “They are very intelligent and intellectualize their problems,” she explains. “To be able to work with that population effectively you really do need to have a skillset that enables you to not only encourage patients to engage in artmaking as a vehicle for communication, but also to really be able to deal with some very serious issues related to trauma, anxiety, suicide, and depression.”

One exercise Betts employs with this latter group is the bridge drawing exercise. “Think of a bridge as a powerful metaphor for change or transition—after all, we are constantly in a state of change and flux,” she explains. “I invite them to create a bridge going from one place to another place.” Often, her clients will draw their life with an eating disorder, which tends to be dark and bleak, on one side of the bridge. On the other is a depiction of their life in recovery, which is decidedly optimistic. Betts uses these drawings to check in with her patients in sessions thereafter, to help them locate where they are on that path to healing.

“We do a lot of work, as art therapists, on a very symbolic and metaphorical level,” she explains. But she emphasizes that they do not analyze or diagnose the artwork, in a Freudian sense. “We are facilitators, we are there to witness the art process, we are there to help guide the patients in uncovering what they are communicating through the art.”

What is the state of art therapy in the U.S.?

“Throughout the world right now, art therapy is definitely the most well-developed in the United States and the United Kingdom,” Betts explains. The field has hit a new level of maturity in recent years, she says, adding that she often has meetings, facilitated through the State Department, to discuss art therapy with foreign officials.

Betts notes that, as with any mental health practice, the main difference between art therapy in the U.K. and the U.S. is that in the U.K., art therapy and other mental health professions are overseen by the federal government, through the Health & Care Professions Council (the HCPC), whereas in the U.S., it’s governed on the state level. In this sense, she continues, art therapy is more nationally stable in the U.K.

“I would say given the fact that art therapy began as a formal profession around 50 to 60 years ago in the U.S. (and also simultaneously in the United Kingdom), if you look at it from a developmental perspective, now we’re kind of in our late adolescence. Mrs. Pence is lifting up our field right at a time when we really are in a stage of rapid growth.”  

How do you become an art therapist in the U.S.?

At present, to become a Registered Art Therapist (ATR) in the U.S., one must complete a master’s degree in the field—AATA recognizes 35 graduate masters programs across the country—and earn credentials from the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB). At time of writing, the ATCB reports that there are 5,968 active, credentialed art therapists in the U.S.

To be accepted into a graduate program in art therapy, students must have completed undergraduate coursework in both psychology and studio art. Graduate coursework includes a range of studio-related classes as well as psychological theory and technique, and students must also complete 700 clinical supervised hours in internships during the program. After graduation, students go on to attain their credentials through the ATCB, which requires them to seek supervision for another 1,000 hours of clinical work. Once they’re working, art therapists must earn continuing education credits—through activities like attending conferences—in order to retain their status.

On top of ATCB credentials, 12 states currently offer formal licensing for art therapists. Betts says that it’s among AATA’s top priorities to increase this number, noting that licensing efforts are crucial in order to have a regulatory body protect the field. “Ten to twenty years ago, when the profession was younger, art therapists had to rely on a number of different creative ways to be able to practice and that often entailed having to get a license in another profession, which is complicated,” she explains. “The importance of having a license is to protect the public from harm.”

One of the few prominent, national art therapy programs in the U.S. is the National Endowment of the Arts initiative Creative Forces, which is a collaboration with the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, and various state arts agencies. The program, established in 2011, pays for the salaries of art therapists, music therapists, and dance therapists who are hired to work in facilities for veterans across the country. The program has been implemented at 12 sites thus far, after originating at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Art therapy is also felt nationwide through emergency relief and natural disaster recovery. In the wake of devastating and traumatic events, volunteer art therapists partner with organizations like the Red Cross and Save the Children to work with affected communities, following first-responder efforts.

What does the field of art therapy need?

Betts and AATA have been involved in Pence’s initiative over the past few months, including a brainstorm session in May where the Second Lady gathered leaders of the field. “She wanted expert input on how to best promote art therapy,” Betts explains. “We informed her of our critical priorities as the leading association for art therapy in this country, regarding the need for more resources for research, the need for increased public awareness, and absolutely to bring more people into the profession.” Betts affirms that the approach Pence rolled out to the public on Wednesday “definitely dovetails with our critical priorities at AATA.”

“The public awareness piece is really huge, just to get it in front of people,” Betts says. “We’ve already seen it help in small ways and now that it’s been officially launched, with the rollout, I do think it will continue.”

More research, Betts says, is crucial in order to learn more about the efficacy of art therapy. “There is some evidence-based research, but we need more of it to demonstrate with certainty that art therapy works and how it works and why it works,” she says. She nods to neuroscience research being conducted at NICoE. “We’re trying to bring in the neuroscience aspect to help further understand what happens in the brain when someone’s engaged with art therapy, which will then help explain exactly how and why it is beneficial.”

There are other considerations for AATA in the near future. “One of our priorities is to increase the number of practitioners—which would mean more opportunity for people to see art therapists,” Betts says, “but also a critical priority is to increase diversity within the profession.” She notes that the field is, at the moment, predominantly white and female. “We’d like to see more men in the profession, but we would also like to see more ethnic and age diversity.”

AATA will continue to work with Pence in enacting the art therapy platform. “We are bound by our mission to advance the profession,” Betts says, “we will continue to help to make sure that it’s done the right way.”

 Original article can be found here​.

October 19
ICYMI: What People are Saying About the Second Lady's Initiative

Article originally posted by The White House

What People Are Saying About Art Therapy: Healing with the HeART

“As an art therapist for over 50 years, my belief in its healing power has actually deepened over time. In a world where trauma is ubiquitous and trust is often fragile, art therapy offers a powerful way to help those who suffer to express in images what cannot be said in words. I am grateful to Mrs. Pence for recognizing the uniquely restorative potential of the discipline to which I have devoted my professional life. If its availability were expanded, many more people in pain could be helped by competent art therapists, who grasp both the vulnerability and the resiliency of the human spirit.”  –Dr. Judy Rubin, PhD, ATR-BC
“Art therapy is a regulated mental health profession that enables people to express themselves through the creative process, especially when words fail them,” said Donna Betts, President of the American Art Therapy Association.  “As the Second Lady’s initiative shines a spotlight on art therapy, the American Art Therapy Association serves as the nation’s leading resource for expanding access to art therapy services.  It is my personal conviction that the Second Lady Mrs. Karen Pence’s initiative is a gift to all Americans and will enrich the profession so that more people can be helped, and more lives can be improved by the power of art therapy.” –Donna Betts, PhD, ATR-BC, President of the American Art Therapy Association & Associate Professor of Art Therapy, George Washington University

“Having worked as an art psychotherapist for over 40 years, I’ve seen a wide range of clients—from institutionalized adults to incarcerated youth to school-aged children and their families—benefit tremendously from art therapy. Mrs. Pence’s initiative will certainly help promote the efficacy of art therapy among these and many other diverse populations. I hope that it will also inspire those interested in the creative arts and psychology, particularly young people and people from diverse backgrounds, to enter the profession.“ –Dr. Cheryl Doby-Copeland, PhD, ATR-BC, LPC, LMFT, Art Therapist
“I have seen first-hand the healing power of Art Therapy. It is integral to the holistic, patient centered care provided to service members and Veterans who receive care at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence and across the Creative Forces Network. As art therapists work side by side with other clinicians, they are healing our Nation’s Heroes. Demand is high for the compassionate, professional care that art therapists provide. That makes this an exciting time for anyone who has the skill, interest, and dedication that it takes to pursue a career in Art Therapy.” –Dr. Sara Kass, Retired Navy Captain, Creative Forces: NEA and DOD/Va Healing Arts Network

“After 23 years and 7 deployments with 3 to combat zones in both Iraq and Afghanistan as a bomb technician, I was left with several mental health issues requiring therapy on top of cognitive impairments due to blast exposure (severe PTSD, depression, and TBI). Over the span of 5 years, I was treated with every known accepted approach, ranging from psychotherapy and medication, to biofeedback and Prolonged Exposure Therapy. After marginal results in previous therapies, I was referred to a Complimentary and Alternative treatment program that focused on Art Therapy. I can say without reservation that Art Therapy saved my mental health, my marriage, and ultimately my life. I was on the verge of giving up on ever getting better I found Art Therapy. I continue to use art therapy to this day.”  –Chris Stowe, United States Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sergeant (retired) 1993-2015

“Art therapy has been shown to be effective in the treatment of trauma, especially for our injured service men and women. At the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, Walter Reed, art therapy is an integrative treatment for ‎traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress. The process of putting psychological pain into physical form is powerful, and allows the service members to safely work through the pain with the guidance of an art therapist.”—Melissa Walker, MA, ATR, Healing Arts Program Coordinator/Art Therapist, NICoE, WRNMMC

“Art therapy can help people of almost any age and ability. Senior citizens, service members, children with emotional or physical challenges, people trying to rebuild after natural disasters or episodes of violence all use art therapy to relieve stress, express feelings, and build hope and resiliency to meet life’s challenges.”
–Tracy Councill, Program Director for Tracy’s Kids
To stay updated on the Second Lady’s art therapy program visits and stories shared about the life changing treatment, follow the Second Lady’s Blog Page. To stay updated on her events, follow her on Twitter at, @SecondLady.  
About Art Therapy
Second Lady Karen Pence chose one initiative to champion, and it is art therapy. According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy is an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship. Art therapy is facilitated by professional art therapists who are experts in human development, psychological, and counseling theories and techniques.

​ Original Article can be found here​.

July 22
UMANA conference 2017: “Help Ukrainians help themselves”

​Article originally by The Ukranian Weekly

CHICAGO – The Ukrainian Medical Association of North America (UMANA) held its 44th Scientific Conference and 37th Assembly of Delegates on Wednesday through Saturday, June 14-18, at the Key Bridge Marriott Hotel in Arlington, Va. The theme of the biennial convention was “Rehabilitation and Reintegration – Helping Ukrainians Help Themselves.”

The conference was dedicated to familiarizing participants with Ukraine’s health care challenges in the face of ongoing war, economic instability and political reform. This is a time of great anxiety but also one of great promise and opportunity. Continuing hostilities in eastern Ukraine are inflicting debilitating military and civilian casualties, raising the demand for rehabilitation medicine. Survivors are in need of services to reintegrate them back into society as useful and productive citizens.

Bringing individual injured soldiers to Western medical institutions for therapy is an emotional, expensive and labor-intensive undertaking. Only a tiny group of the most severely injured can be treated in institutions like the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. All experts agree that rehabilitative therapy works best when applied sooner and closer to the areas of need, closer to patients’ families and closer to avenues of long-term support. As a Ukrainian medical society, UMANA is closely tied to colleagues in Ukraine as we seek to understand the nature and scope of the problems they face so that we can offer appropriate assistance, while also learning from their now extensive experience in caring for traumatized populations.

This year’s UMANA conference was unique in many ways.

To ensure wide participation, non-profit foundations responded with generous grant support. Donors included the Ukrainian Catholic Education Foundation (UCEF), Kyiv Mohyla Foundation of America (KMFA), the Heritage Foundation 1st Security Savings Bank, Selfreliance Foundation, UMANA Foundation and Yuri Deychakiwsky, M.D.

Next, the conference was honored to welcome two distinguished guests from Ukraine, acting Minister of Health Ulana Suprun, M.D., and Vadim Sviridenko, commissioner of the president of Ukraine for rehabilitation of ATO (Anti-terrorist Operation) wounded veterans.

Furthermore, the gathering was truly international in scope, encompassing speakers from the United States, Canada and Ukraine. For three days, a distinguished faculty of nearly 20 presenters experienced in rehabilitation and occupational medicine informed an audience of over 70 confreres on war trauma medicine, physical medicine and rehabilitation, post-traumatic stress disorder, effects of limb loss on young lives and their reintegration into their new realities.

Fields represented included physical medicine and rehabilitation (physiatry), neurosurgery, orthopedic trauma surgery, interventional radiology, public health/epidemiology, optometry, psychiatry, psychology, medical anthropology, physical therapy and occupational therapy. Listeners also heard from specialists in humanitarian relief work and researchers in population response to trauma and displacement.

Prior to the opening of the conference, Dr. Deychakiwsky and Andriy Ripecky, M.D., accompanied the visitors from Ukraine to Walter Reed Army Hospital, including the National Intrepid Center of Excellence where new therapies offer “Hope, Healing, Discovery and Learning for Traumatic Brain Injury and Psychological Health.”

The conference began with a welcome reception on Wednesday evening atop the Key Bridge Marriott with a direct view of the Embassy of Ukraine at the opposite end of the bridge.

The conference was opened formally on Thursday morning, with greetings from the president of UMANA, Borys Buniak, M.D., and the course director, Dr. Ripecky.

Befitting the opening of a conference of international scope, the first presenter, Luke Tomycz, M.D., a Ukrainian neurosurgeon from Texas, spoke to the assembly directly from Ukraine via Skype, where he is helping to train young neurosurgeons. The transmission was flawless, and set the tone for the remainder of the conference.

The day included lectures by Chrystyna Rakoczy, O.D., on visual dysfunction in traumatic brain injury, Col. (Ret.) Paul Pasquina, M.D., on rehabilitation of the blast-injured patient, Ukrainian presenter Orest Suvalo, M.D., on the state of mental health care in Ukraine, and Namrita Singh, Ph.D., on global mental health approaches to promoting community recovery and reintegration after conflict, highlighting a randomized controlled trial of a psychotherapy intervention in Ukraine.

On Thursday evening the conference attendees attended a reception graciously hosted by Valeriy Chaly, ambassador of Ukraine to the U.S.A. After crossing the Francis Scott Key Bridge to reach the sovereign territory of Ukraine at the Embassy, confreres were greeted by Ambassador Chaly, Ukrainian Parliament chair Andriy Parubiy, and Dr. Suprun. After the welcome, guests were hosted to a delicious sampling of Ukrainian culinary creations prepared on-site, leading to extended social discussion and networking among Embassy staff, guests and conference attendees.

Friday morning sessions included presentations by Seth Messinger, Ph.D., on the long-term effects of rehabilitative care on social reintegration and life in the community, and two presenters from Ukraine, Viktoria Gorbunova, Ph.D., on the state of clinical psychology in Ukraine and Vitaly Klymchuk, Ph.D., on the Institute of Mental Health at the Ukrainian Catholic University. After lunch, Maj. (Ret.) Stuart Campbell, M.P.T., spoke on EACE global health engagement; Daniel Hryhorczuk, M.D., M.P.H., explored health, work and environment in conflict zones; Natalie Zaraska, B.Sc. (OT) M.Sc. (Rehab), discussed bringing occupational therapy skills to Ukraine; and Steven Yevich, M.D., presented practical interventional radiological solutions to sequelae of traumatic injuries.

After a busy and full day of educational endeavors, confreres were able to spend a quiet evening at the traditional UMANA reunion dinner. Mr. Sviridenko spoke movingly of his personal struggle to recover from grievous injuries suffered in battle at Debaltsevo in the winter and of his work now in leading Ukraine’s efforts to develop a system of care for injured veterans of the ATO.

While enjoying a wonderful dinner, members were able to revive old friendships, discuss the past two days of lectures, and network among young and senior members of the association. The group broke out in spontaneous sessions of Ukrainian songs, and had to be gently urged to leave late in the evening to make room for the next day set-up crew.

Saturday, the final day of scientific sessions, began with George Jaskiw, M.D., reviewing post-traumatic stress disorder, from neurobiology to rehabilitation; followed by Oksana Buniak, P.T., D.P.T., LSVT, on assisting a change in the regulation of physical therapy practice in Ukraine; Vassyl Lonchyna, M.D., on the ripple effect on rehabilitation medicine in Ukraine; and Roman Hayda, M.D., discussing the complex extremity war injury and the lessons shared in the care of US combatants; and concluding with an overview by Laryssa Kyj, Ph.D., of projects supporting health care in Ukraine as executed by the non-profit United Ukrainian American Relief Committee.

Saturday afternoon was dedicated to a bus tour of “Ukrainian” Washington, with stops at the usual landmarks, including the Taras Shevchenko statue and the recently installed Holodomor Memorial.

The conference concluded on Saturday evening with the keynote address and awards banquet. Dr. Suprun spoke with great passion of her commitment to fundamentally transform Ukraine’s health care system, focusing on all aspects, including training, clinical care, research and financing.

Dr. Suprun received a recognition award for her exemplary work in helping Ukraine’s evolving health system, and Dr. Buniak was awarded recognition for his two years of service to UMANA as the president of the association.

During the cocktail hour preceding the awards banquet, numerous U.S.-based humanitarian organizations that target health care in Ukraine were able to showcase their projects for all attendees. Participating were: United Ukrainian American Relief Committee (; 215-728-1630); United Help Ukraine (; Revived Soldiers Ukraine (; Razom, sponsor of the Co-Pilot Project, focusing on neurosurgery practice in Ukraine (;  Kyiv-Mohyla Foundation, supporting Kyiv-Mohyla University and its rehabilitation program (; Ukrainian Catholic Educational Foundation, supporting the rehabilitation and mental health program at the Ukrainian Catholic University (; Fulbright Program in Ukraine; Andrey Sheptytsky Hospital Charities; UMANA Foundation and World Federation of Ukrainian Medical Associations.

All these groups and organizations welcome the active, hands on participation of volunteers and donations. (UMANA advises that groups not listed above are invited to let the association know of their activity so their work also can be highlighted.)

The 37th Assembly of Delegates was held concurrently on Saturday afternoon, conducting the biennial business meeting of UMANA. The association’s financial affairs and budget were reviewed and confirmed, and reports of all committees were presented. Elections of new officers for the upcoming two years were held with the following results: Dr. Ripecky, president; Dr. Leo Wolansky, vice-president; Dr. Peter Lenchur, president-elect; Dr. Buniak, immediate past-president; Ms. Lida Wozny, secretary; Dr. Liza Pilch, treasurer; and Dr. Andrew Dzul, chapter representative.

Despite the range of disciplines and topics, several points and themes emerged across speakers’ presentations during the UMANA conference.

•  While the problems faced are numerous, all conveyed a notable sense of optimism for the future.

•  Assistance is very much valued and appreciated when offered as a collegial, collaborative effort.

•  Training across many disciplines is needed and welcomed.

•  Collaboration among disciplines was repeatedly emphasized as key by presenters, whether speaking of neurosurgery or psychotherapy.

•  Technology is good but less vital than the systematic application of effective but less costly and more available treatments or devices, such as simple, well-designed and locally produced prostheses.

•  For psychological trauma affecting large numbers of people, treatment by trained, low-level providers such as counselors or bachelor’s level staff has shown great promise.

•  In dealing with disability, resetting expectations across society will be vital. Whether referring to physical or psychological disability, an emphasis on recovery and restoration of function will need to be introduced to elevate Ukraine’s health care practice to world standards.


Original article can be found here.

July 17
Capitol Police Officer Paints to Heal

Article originally by Roll Call​

Sitting in his garage just a few miles from the Capitol, where his job is to protect the building and those in it, Federico A. Ruiz is surrounded by splatters, brushes stiff with dried paint, and the rattling of a fan mounted on the wall.

The Capitol Police officer is an artist when he comes home and his garage is his studio. Painting is a way for him to cope with his memories from the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

“We were kind of like the first soldiers in a long sprint of peacetime, if you want to say that, that ended up going in and seeing Americans and soldiers dead. Deceased on U.S. soil,” Ruiz, 43, said.

In 2001, he was a team leader for a search and rescue team based at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. He had been in the Army for five years.

On 9/11, his pager went off, “and I knew the number that I needed to call so I called it and it was my boss [who] said, ‘A plane just crashed into one of the towers in New York and we don’t know what’s going on. Can you get your team ready?’” Ruiz recalled. “Before I got to the floor that I needed to, I had the second pager go off and they said another plane had hit the other tower and to scramble the team to get on the tarmac.”

He led them into two Blackhawk helicopters and they traveled up the Potomac River toward Washington. By that time, another airliner had crashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth hijacked plane was still out there, feared to be headed toward the White House or the Capitol. Ruiz’s team landed in Fort McNair in a holding pattern.

“We still didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “We knew something was going on, but we didn’t know it was a mass terrorist strike on U.S. soil.”

After the fourth airliner crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, Ruiz’s team was told to head to the Pentagon.

“I think it’s probably a couple hours after the plane had blown up that we were allowed to go in and at that point, unfortunately, we were going in hoping to rescue people, but we kind of knew that it was more of a, you know …” he hesitated, “… a mission to just search for survivors and prevent the building from collapsing.”​

“A lot of people forget that people that were in the Pentagon were military and civilian and they were killed by a foreign entity for the first time in a long time on American soil,” Ruiz said. “So, dealing with that was hard for a lot of people.

“It was hard for me,” he said.

The military encouraged first responders to go to group sessions to deal with the trauma and to seek whatever other kind of help they needed.

Ruiz had painted as a child. “I looked into therapy on my own and saw that there was a technique of art therapy out there,” he said.

He started to paint frequently at home to learn to relax. 

In this, he was not alone. Painting, sculpting, crafting and other arts have been used to treat veterans since the 1940s, said Melissa Walker, an art therapist at Walter Reed’s National Intrepid Center of Excellence.

She said service members who have sustained physical and psychological trauma to the brain have difficulty verbalizing what has occurred because of a shutdown in the speech-language area of the brain.

“Traditional talk therapy, on its own, may not be as effective without a therapist-led practice that is visual, sensory, and tactile, resulting in a product (the artwork) which the service member can then describe and process through, reintegrating the hemispheres of the brain,” she said in an email.

At first, Ruiz’s paintings reflected the emotions he was feeling.

“I don’t have any of the paintings because I … destroyed all those paintings,” he said. “It’s not the stuff that I wanted to do because it had to do a lot with just the ugliness. War.”

A 'visual voice'

Walker said painting negative emotions is common.

“Many service members share they feel the art therapy gives them an opportunity to visually express what they often verbally cannot — it provides them with a ‘visual voice,’” she said.

Ruiz recalled some of his artworks including one crafted out of real gas masks, and a painting of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“It looked more like somebody’s nightmare than anything,” he said. “It got some emotions out, but it’s not what I wanted to paint so I started exploring different types of styles of painting and digging into who I am and what made me happy.”

Ruiz’s parents are from the Dominican Republic and they sent him there frequently as a child to learn about the culture.​

Finding happiness

Those memories were the inspiration behind his art show
"Land, Sea & Sky: A Minimalist’s Caribbean,” hanging through July in Glen Echo Park, Maryland.

“Some of my happiest moments were being on the shoulders of my uncle and he would take me as a toddler into the beaches and I still have these vivid memories of the beaches, these beautiful beaches of the Dominican Republican, just strolling. How happy it made me,” he said.

“The landscapes, the minimalist landscapes, are what make me the happiest,” he said.

He added, “If people enjoy it, then great. But I don’t rely on my paintings to make a living, so I’m blessed that way. I can paint whatever I want and if you don’t like it, I’m sorry,” he said, laughing. “It’s what makes me happy.”

He paints after taking off his Capitol Police uniform, which he has worn for 15 years after leaving the Army after serving for seven years.

“Best job I ever had. I’m very happy to be a Capitol Police officer and it was a great transition from being in the military,” he said. “I still paint to keep my happiness and relaxation after work because you need that.”​


Original article can be found here.

July 06
Kobelja Takes the Helm of WRNMMC

Article originally by The Journal​

Navy Capt. (Dr.) Mark A. Kobelja assumed authority of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center during a ceremony June 30 in WRNMMC’s Memorial Auditorium.

Kobelja replaces Army Col. Michael S. Heimall, who retired from the military after more than 30 years of service, serving the last 13 months as the WRNMMC director.

Navy Rear Adm. (Dr.) David A. Lane, director of the National Capital Region Medical Directorate, officiated the change of authority ceremony, stating, “This is truly an important event in the life cycle of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, one of the most storied and recognizable institutions in the U. S. military and in American medicine.

“If you say, ‘Walter Reed National Military Medical Center,’ [people] naturally think of the greatness of military medicine,” Lane said. He added WRNMMC is where “America’s heroes, wounded warriors, come to heal.” WRNMMC offers “unquestionably world leading comprehensive ballistic rehabilitative care” [within its Military Advanced Training Center], diagnosis and treatment of traumatic brain injury [in the National Intrepid Center of Excellence], the only Department of Defense medical center with an enhanced bio-containment unit and special pathogen lab for viruses like Ebola and other infectious diseases, the only DOD medical center performing solid organ transplants, and the John P. Murtha Cancer Center [the only designated cancer center of excellence in DOD], which is also spearheading the White House’s Cancer Moonshot military efforts.

“[In addition], nearly 40 percent of DOD’s graduate health education and over a third of its clinical research gets done [at WRNMMC],” Lane added.

“It takes a special breed of leader to lead an iconic organization like Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, [and] Col. Michael Heimall has been just that kind of special leader,” Lane continued. “This is essentially his fifth command tour,” the admiral added, explaining Heimall has commanded an Army dental activity, medical activity, Army hospital, Army medical center and WRNMMC.

Lane said while Heimall “will be greatly missed and is leaving big shoes to fill,” Kobelja “is the right leader to fill those shoes.” He added Kobelja is among that “special breed of leader” poised “to direct America’s medical center [WRNMMC]. I have complete trust and confidence that he’ll pick up right where Colonel Heimall left off.”

Kobelja is no stranger to WRNMMC or the Naval Support Activity Bethesda campus. He completed his medical degree at the University Services University on NSAB, as well as clinical training in anesthesiology at the former National Naval Medical Center and pain medicine training at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center, predecessors of WRNMMC. He also served on the NNMC staff as an anesthesiologist, as well as department head of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, and chair of the Executive Committee of the Medical Staff and director for Surgical Services, overseeing the integration and transition of surgical staffs of WRAMC and NNMC into WRNMMC. His other previous assignments included deputy commander of the Naval Medical Center San Diego, and commanding officer of Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California. Prior to coming to WRNMMC as director, Kobelja served as Fleet Surgeon for U.S. Naval Forces Europe/Africa and U.S. Sixth Fleet.

At the change of authority, Kobelja saluted “the unwavering service” of Heimall and the Heimall family. “Congratulations on a distinguished career. Well done. You have built a brilliant leadership team and your work with our external partners has set the stage for generations of success.”

The new WRNMMC director said to the medical center staff, “It’s an honor to work with you again in this noble endeavor. This facility is the descendant of two great institutions, and you have been faithful to the legacies of selfless service, excellence, and compassionate care to our nation’s heroes and their families, [and] champions of expert research and education that has transformed medical and surgical care throughout the world, all while many of you have gone into harm’s way alongside our brothers and sisters in arms. You are leading the way for a grateful nation. Our patients and their families need us, and we have the watch.”

Guest speaker for Heimall’s retirement, Dr. Richard W. Thomas, USU president, also commended the service of the Heimall family, stating the colonel “is another link in a family that has dedicated themselves to service to our nation and their communities….Over 30 years of service, [Heimall] has dedicated himself to ensuring our service members and their families are taken care of every day and receive world-class care.”

Heimall explained one of the things that has made his career rewarding are his “teammates — battle buddies, shipmates and wingmen, pulling each other along, pushing to reach a goal that at times you feel there is just no way you’re ever going to get to, but you do.

“The Army and Navy have blessed me with incredible teams to help me do my mission,” Heimall added. He called WRNMMC “a very, very special place with a great mission – the opportunity to care for America’s most severely injured service members and their families.”

The colonel said the men and women who serve in uniform, along with their families, “have written a blank check to the United States of America with their lives. When they go into harm’s way, they deserve to know that there is a health-care system behind them that is going to spare no expense or sacrifice to bring them home safe and return them to their families as productive Americans.

“Our patients and our staff are really the best America has to offer. They deserve the absolute best medical system we can give them. We need to stop talking about protecting our service-specific equities, resources and control. We need to spend our time talking about how we are going to best care for America’s sons and daughters,” Heimall added.


Original article can be found here.

May 12
New center at CU Anschutz could create national model for veterans’ care

Article originally by The Denver Post​

AURORA — A new treatment center at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus announced Friday will provide a national model of how to care for the psychological and physical damage of war, campus officials and veterans advocates said.

The facility, which could begin offering some services as early as this summer, will provide a place for veterans to receive comprehensive treatment in one place — whether they need treatment for a traumatic brain injury, counseling for post-traumatic stress, physical therapy or other care. The center plans also to offer alternative therapies such as acupuncture and yoga, and its location on the Anschutz Medical Campus means that more complicated treatment — such as for prosthetics — is all within a few blocks.

That kind of centralized, big-picture care is critical for veterans, who often bounce between doctors and have to try to navigate the medical system on their own, said Pete Scobell, a retired Navy SEAL who served six combat deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries and suffered from post-deployment stress and brain injury as a result.

“What I learned is that our current health care system is not set up to solve problems,” Scobell said Friday at the center’s unveiling. “It’s set up to treat symptoms.”

“This,” he said referring to the new center, “is not the short game. This is the long game.”

The center will be called the Marcus Institute for Brain Health. It is being paid for by a $38 million gift from Bernard Marcus, a co-founder of The Home Depot who devotes much of his philanthropic efforts to helping veterans. On Friday, he called the current level of care for veterans, “the shame of the country.”

The institute will be housed, at least to start, in the Anschutz Campus’ Health and Wellness Center. Marcus said he hopes the CU institute will be the first of many private-sector facilities across the country to provide veterans with whole-person care in a single place.

“That’s the goal, and that’s what we’re starting with today,” he said. “This is only the first step.”

That first step, though, has been years in the making — and builds on progress the military has made in caring for active-duty service members.

In 2011, a suicide bomber’s blast just 10 feet away tossed Army Staff Sgt. Spencer Milo off his feet and into the group of more than 600,000 service members and veterans suffering from what Milo, who also suffered head injuries in Iraq, calls the “invisible wounds” of war: traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress and depression.

When Milo returned from his deployment in Afghanistan, though, there was new hope for treatment in the form of a freshly opened comprehensive treatment center at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. At the hospital’s National Intrepid Center of Excellence, service members had their needs addressed individually, at the same time and in the same place.

“The program at NICoE truly saved my life,” Milo said in an interview this week. “Saved my life, saved my marriage, everything.”

Currently, though, that kind of care is not available to veterans. The Veterans Affairs hospitals across the country are able to provide care to honorably discharged veterans, and the Marcus Institute hopes to work with the local veterans hospital to connect veterans to specialty care at the center.

But veterans who were dishonorably or other-than honorobly discharged are not eligible for benefits — even if the circumstances of their discharge were related to their post-traumatic stress or brain injury. It’s those veterans who Milo, now working as an outreach specialist at the Marcus Institute, hopes to focus on at first.

He will be joined in the work by a familiar face, Dr. Jim Kelly, who was the founding director of NICoE and ran it while Milo was a patient there. Kelly, a longtime CU professor, helped conceive the idea for the Marcus Institute and will serve as its executive director.

“This is the one that I think is really going to tip the scales,” he said.

The institute will run on Marcus’ donation for the first five years, and Kelly said he hopes to work with retired athletes or veterans organizations after that to keep it going and possibly expand its reach. The institute will accept payment from insurance when it’s available, but Kelly said veterans receiving services at the center won’t have to pay anything.

Milo hopes what they receive at the institute will be invaluable.

“Basically,” he said, “when they leave, they’re going to see a path forward.”​


Original article can be found here.

May 11
Afghan veteran ‘didn’t think I was capable of graduating. Period.”

​Article originally by SunHerald

BILOXI - Melissa Estes signed up for college courses in the spring of 2016, not to graduate but just to see if she could do the work.

She had been through so much since 2012, when she was deployed with the Seabees in Afghanistan. A roadside bomb wounded her while she was in a convoy. She wound up in a hospital in Germany and was later shipped back to the States.

She suffered from frequent migraines and slurred speech. Her personality and interests changed. The woman who had loved creative outlets, such as painting and writing, no longer existed. Doctors treated her symptoms but never got to the root of her problems. She walked around in a fog of pain medication.

This same woman, clear-headed today, graduated Thursday night from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College with an associate degree in criminal justice. Estes was one of about 1,100 graduates who participated, including at least one service member whose service dog joined him for the processional.

Estes has plans and goals.

What made the difference for her were a few people who stopped long enough to care — a new corpsman in her Seabee battalion, a psychiatrist and the professors at the Jefferson Davis campus of MGCCC who have taken an interest in seeing her succeed.

“I have that sense of purpose again,” said Estes, who is 38 years old. “It’s unfortunate that not a lot of people I was on deployment with could find that, the people that are lost. It’s a sad state of affairs.”

She can count eight military friends who have committed suicide since returning from Iraq or Afghanistan.

“They all have served on a combat deployment,” she said. “In my personal opinion, I think that’s a high number for a small area.”

Estes hopes to help veterans one day, as she has been helped. She is transferring from MGCCC to the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast, where she plans to earn a psychology degree and eventually work with veterans who suffer from PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.

She was finally diagnosed with TBI when a new psychiatrist got her into the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, in summer 2014. They found three lesions in the front of her brain.

The four-week program at NICoE teaches injured veterans they are not the same person and helps them accept who they are now, she said.

The Seabees medically retired her in April 2015. She was unable to find even a part-time job. She said she wanted to do better for herself and her son.

As it happened, MGCCC’s Jeff Davis campus was just the place she needed.

“Everything I’ve done there at the JD campus,” she said, “is a direct reflection on the amazing professors I’ve had.”

One of those professors was James Farmer, who taught her Biology II and Microbiology. He had returned to school much later in life than Estes did — at age 49. He earned a Master of Science in environmental toxicology at age 51 and his doctorate in biological sciences, with an emphasis in microbiology, when he was 59 years old.

“I think me pointing that out to her gave her a lot of encouragement that she could move on to something better in her life,” he said. “Overcoming her injuries and being a little older wasn’t the worst thing in the world.”

Estes’ mother and stepfather, who live in Maryland, attended her graduation, as did her son, 8-year-old Hunter Wymore.

“I really didn’t think that I would be graduating with honors,” she said. “ I didn’t think I was capable of graduating, period.”​


Original article can be found here.

May 11
Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund Breaks Ground on New Intrepid Spirit Center at Camp Pendleton, CA that will Treat US Service Members Who Suffer from TBI

Article originally by benzinga

Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund to Provide $12.5 Million to Build the New Facility

Camp Pendleton, CA (PRWEB) May 11, 2017

The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund (IFHF), representatives from Camp Pendleton, and the Naval Hospital at Camp Pendleton today broke ground on a new Intrepid Spirit center that will diagnose and treat Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and psychological health conditions in service members at Camp Pendleton, California. The facility will be the seventh in a series of nine centers located at military bases around the country built by the IFHF, a not-for-profit organization and national leader supporting the men and women of the United States Armed Forces and their families. Intrepid Spirit centers currently are operational at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Fort Hood, TX, and Fort Bragg, NC, and another currently is being constructed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA.

Camp Pendleton's new Intrepid Spirit center will cost approximately $12.5 million to construct and equip with the latest in brain technology and treatment facilities and will span 25,000 square feet. Funding for the project is being raised privately through the IFHF.

"When our brave men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line for us each day are injured while protecting us and our freedoms, it is our duty as Americans to ensure they receive the very best care available," said Arnold Fisher, Honorary Chairman of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. "Treatment of TBI and psychological health conditions is much more effective when patients can be treated closer to home where they can be surrounded by family and friends. We are proud to break ground our next Intrepid Spirit center at Camp Pendleton, our second on the West Coast, so thousands of service members can receive the care they deserve without having to travel across the country to get it."

As home to the I Marine Expeditionary Force, composed of the 1st Marine Division, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, 1st Marine Logistics Group, 11th, 13th, and 15th Marine Expeditionary Units and the MEF Headquarters Group, Camp Pendleton supports more than 42,000 active duty personnel, 23,500 reserve personnel who work and train at Camp Pendleton each year, as well as more than 77,000 retired military personnel who reside within 50 miles of the base.

"We are humbled and grateful to accept this donation to the American People from the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund," said Commander Paul Sargent the new center's Medical Director. "Most patients who suffer head injuries improve on their own, however, for those with persistent symptoms, numerous studies show the benefit of an interdisciplinary approach to care. This cutting-edge facility will house 2 full interdisciplinary teams focused on the recovery and rehabilitation of service members with a history of brain injury as well as its physical and psychological consequences."

All Intrepid Spirit centers are being funded and built by the IFHF through a $100 million fundraising campaign. Though the centers are being built exclusively through private donations, each center is gifted to the Department of Defense for operation and management upon completion. All of the centers are located at military bases around the country.

The design and mission of the Intrepid Spirit centers are based on the original National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) which opened in 2010 at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. Operated by the Department of Defense, NICoE is the most advanced facility of its kind in the country, and is the center of the Armed Forces' efforts in researching, diagnosing and treating TBI, psychological health conditions and related injuries sustained by military personnel.

About the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund

The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a national leader in supporting the men and women of the United States Armed Forces and their families, has provided close to $200 million in support for the families of military personnel lost in service to our nation, and for severely wounded military personnel and veterans. In 2010 the Fund opened the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) to support the research, diagnosis, and treatment of military personnel and veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury (TBI) and psychological health (PH) conditions. In 2013 the Fund launched a new $100 million campaign to build nine "Intrepid Spirit" centers at major military bases around the country. These centers serve as satellites to the central NICoE facility and extend that care to more service members suffering TBI, PH conditions and related afflictions. Five centers are operational and two others are under construction.


Original article can be found here.

April 20
WRNMMC, VCE Staffs Discuss Care, Rehab With Blind Veterans

Article originally by The Journal

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and Vision Center of Excellence staff briefed members of the Blind Veterans Association and Blind Veterans UK about care and rehabilitation capabilities at the nation’s flagship health care facility April 5.

The briefings at Walter Reed Bethesda were part of a week-long visit to the National Capital Region by the BVA and BVUK. The blinded veterans from the war in Iraq and Afghanistan met with key federal agency officials and senior leaders, as well as with vision rehabilitation experts to learn and share best practices which will be disseminated when participants return to their home communities and countries to promote deeper knowledge about the 100-year evolution of blind rehabilitation, war eye injury management, current vision research as well as fostering mutual respect and understanding between allied nations, according to BVA officials.

The blinded veterans spent the week recognizing the 100th anniversary of U.S. entry into World War I April 6, 2017.

WRNMMC Director Army Col. Michael S. Heimall welcomed the veterans to the medical center, and VCE Executive Director Navy Capt. Penny E. Walter briefed the group about efforts in the center to improve vision health, optimizing readiness and enhancing quality of life for service members and veterans.

Retired Army Col. (Dr.) Robert A. Mazzoli, and ophthalmologist at the VCE, discussed 100 years of military ocular and combat casualty care, comparing lessons learned in World War I to today.

Quoting renowned physician Dr. William Mayo, Mazzoli stated, “The only victor in war is medicine,” explaining the ongoing progress in medicine and surgery that is accelerated by wartime discoveries. He added lessons learned by the military often migrate to civilian practice, and civilian practice propagates those lessons. He explained eye care has become “exceptionally specialized,” and “war injuries are invariably ocular polytrauma.”

Mazzoli stressed the importance of wearing protective eyewear, explaining “prevention is always better than treatment.” He added understanding the impact of combat ocular trauma on visual quality of life can help advance treatment, improve eye protection and assist in developing better visual rehabilitation care.

Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Scott McClellan, chief of ophthalmology service at WRNMMC, discussed its ophthalmology clinic and the care its staff provides, and retired Army Col. (Dr.) Paul Pasquina, chief of the rehabilitation department, briefed the group about the Military Advanced Training Center. Dr. Louis French, deputy director for operations at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at WRNMMC, briefed the veterans about facility, which specializes in traumatic brain injury care and psychological health conditions.

BVA Director of District 6 Dr. Tom Zampieri explained the relationship between the BVA and BVUK “allows us to share information about the 100-year evolution of veteran blind services, vision trauma care, research, and the long-standing close cooperation with our nations.”

The BVUK traces its founding back to 1915 during World War I, and BVA’s earliest beginnings occurred March 28, 1945 when a group of World War II blinded servicemen formally met in Connecticut.​


 Original article can be found here.

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