CORRECTED VERSION — Lynn: Intrepid Center Will Be Hub of Brain Treatment

WASHINGTON, June 24, 2010 — The new Nation­al Intre­pid Cen­ter of Excel­lence in Bethes­da, Md., will con­stant­ly 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 today.

National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
Deputy Defense Sec­re­tary William J. Lynn III address­es the audi­ence dur­ing the Nation­al Intre­pid Cen­ter of Excel­lence ded­i­ca­tion cer­e­mo­ny at the Nation­al Naval Med­ical Cen­ter in Bethes­da, Md., June 24, 2010. The Intre­pid Cen­ter is a state-of-the-art facil­i­ty designed to pro­vide cut­ting-edge ser­vices for advanced diag­nos­tics and treat­ment for ser­vice mem­bers with psy­cho­log­i­cal health issues and trau­mat­ic brain injury.
DoD pho­to by Cherie Cullen
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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 ser­vice­mem­bers and their fam­i­lies to get bet­ter diag­no­sis and treat­ment plans than are avail­able at their local mil­i­tary instal­la­tion, Lynn said.

“This will con­stant­ly improve our abil­i­ty to treat these injuries and, ulti­mate­ly, to lessen their impact,” he 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 Vet­er­ans Affairs Depart­ment, as well as aca­d­e­m­ic and oth­er insti­tu­tions. “The need for such an insti­tu­tion could not be more press­ing as our mil­i­tary approach­es its 10th year at war,” Lynn said.

The deputy sec­re­tary not­ed that advance­ments in med­ical care and equip­ment have allowed more ser­vice­mem­bers to sur­vive com­bat injuries, but a great many troops are return­ing with brain injuries and psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lems. 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, the deputy sec­re­tary 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.

The depart­ment has done oth­er things to pro­mote men­tal health, Lynn said, includ­ing appoint­ing direc­tors of psy­cho­log­i­cal health in every state to offer con­sis­tent ser­vice to Nation­al Guard mem­bers and their fam­i­lies. And, he said, they’ve added more than 2,000 men­tal health providers even in the midst of a nation­al short­age of men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als.

Final­ly, he said, the depart­ment con­tin­ues to empha­size to ser­vice­mem­bers that their careers will not be jeop­ar­dized for seek­ing men­tal health treat­ment.

“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.

Lynn also rec­og­nized Arnold Fish­er and his son, Ken, pri­vate con­trac­tors who start­ed The Fish­er House Foun­da­tion. The foun­da­tion is build­ing a third house on the Nation­al Naval Med­ical Cen­ter grounds specif­i­cal­ly for fam­i­lies of patients at the cen­ter. The center’s ded­i­ca­tion to work­ing with fam­i­lies fol­lows depart­ment lead­ers’ under­stand­ing that “when you enlist a ser­vice­mem­ber, you enlist the whole fam­i­lies,” he said, not­ing that the sac­ri­fices of troops are those of the whole fam­i­ly.

“Through this cen­ter, we now have a place to deliv­er the care our wound­ed war­riors deserve and in a way we can all be proud of,” Lynn said.

Tam­my Duck­worth, the Vet­er­ans Affairs Department’s 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 ser­vice­mem­bers 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 cen­ter, which was paid for with $65 mil­lion in pri­vate dona­tions to the Intre­pid Fall­en Heroes Fund, includes $10 mil­lion in the lat­est imag­ing equip­ment that allows health­care providers and researchers the rare abil­i­ty to see inside the brain for bet­ter diag­no­sis and treat­ment plans.

“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.”

Clif­ford L. Stan­ley, under­sec­re­tary of defense for per­son­nel and readi­ness, toured the cen­ter ear­li­er in the week and com­ment­ed on its unique design.

Far from a stan­dard clin­i­cal envi­ron­ment, the cen­ter is a design of soft lines and nat­ur­al light­ing, and includes a “Cen­tral Park” of sky­lights, green plants, an ornate wood floor, and the sounds of birds chirp­ing.

“The atten­tion to detail was stag­ger­ing. But the tech­no­log­i­cal inte­gra­tion of all of that detail so that we take care of almost every­thing any­body can imag­ine with regard to our wound­ed … was just unbe­liev­able,” Stan­ley said. “The Cen­ter of Excel­lence is prob­a­bly going to be the stan­dard bear­er and actu­al­ly sort of like the heart … of our effort to take care of those who have those invis­i­ble injuries.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)