What does it take to help American veterans? The National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) in San Antonio, Texas is rightfully acknowledged as one of the crown jewels of medical care for servicemen and women. The new NICOE in Bethesda was opened this year, as we were told with pride, on time and under budget. Today, at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, a satellite center of the NICOE held its ground breaking.
The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund will build the center, as well as a sister center at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. These centers will provide medical care for service members suffering from what has been called “invisible wounds of war,” such as posttraumatic stress (PTS) and TBI. As Mr. Arnold Fisher, the honorary chairman of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund said to all of us, “we will build them, you run them.” Mr. Fisher exhorted us all to “get this moving.”
Each NICoE Satellite Center will incorporate:
* Intake/Clinic area: psychiatric testing, chiropractic treatment, acupuncture, neuro psych testing rooms, and exam rooms.
* Physical Therapy: open gym layout with physical therapy equipment including adjustable mat tables, parallel bars, treadmills, alter-G gait trainer, and other therapy items.
* Sleep Lab: one sleep room, equipped with a sleep system and ambient therapy music, and a control room with a computer monitoring system.
* Central Park: a unique and multi-purpose environment to support physical therapy and family activities, with features including a therapeutic labyrinth for meditation and focusing exercises and a natural setting with trees, shrubs and water elements.
* Family Room: providing a reprieve space for patients and family to spend time together and take a break from the clinical treatment regime. (Courtesy of Fort Belvoir Community Hospital PAO)
The many officers and enlisted men and women who were present at the ceremony Wednesday morning were joined by physicians from the adjoining hospital, members of the WTB (Warrior Transition Battalion) and other dignitaries. Two of the dignitaries sat quietly or neatly laid down in the shade. Nathan and Nemo, two service dogs trained to assist wounded warriors, enjoyed the attention, napped through the speeches and were (I hope the generals and admirals forgive me) the big draw for many there.
Yes, it works
Nemo the big chocolate lab, who assists and partners with SSgt. Christopher Milo, and who was provided by the Warrior Canine Connection, took a few minutes to allow me to speak with his person. I asked SSgt. Milo what difference Nemo has made to him, as well as how he felt about being at the NICoE. He echoed one of the speakers, Air Force MSgt. Earl Covel. They both agreed that, while military medicine had tried various treatments, the NICoE actually “got it”. Staff Sgt. Milo told me that when he got to the NICoE, he felt like a person, not a patient. They both emphasized how much the NICoE works with families, and insists on families being involved in treatment, unlike most military medicine. In military medicine, in the 15 minute appointment you are allotted, families are strongly discouraged from attending.
Having Nemo in his life, Sgt. Milo said he could let his guard down, after all, Nemo is there to protect him. Nemo has woken him out of nightmares and makes him feel much more secure in public situations. His wife is very happy to have the dog in the house, and their new daughter already seems to love the dog, who is a calm, sweet, friendly Labrador.
Nathan, the other service dog there from Paws for Purple Hearts, does not have a person to which he is currently assigned. One of his trainers was there, who hadn’t seen him in a while. If there’s anything more wonderful than seeing a very happy and very friendly, bouncy golden retriever adoring a human, I’m not sure I know what it is. Nathan is outgoing, loves to hug and kiss any human, but is very calm in crowded situations. An ideal animal to help a wounded warrior deal with the rest of the world, he was trained in large part at Walter Reed Army Medical Center by wounded warriors.
This type of treatment, treatment that is “outside the box,” is another hallmark of the NICoE. Mr. Fisher of the Foundation spoke about the collaboration between universities, hospitals and the military medical establishment. Government will need to provide grants for universities to conduct such research and treatment at the satellite facilities. Dr. James Kelly, the Director of the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, said part of the task is to “make visible what is invisible,” to reduce pain and suffering using what he called high-tech and empathic high touch procedures. I wonder if that high touch included the soft dog nose, the thump thump of a dog’s tail on a leg, and the swipe of a doggie tongue on your cheek.