WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 12, 2013) – Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks that happened 12 years ago, more than 2.5 million U.S. troops have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and over that same period, more than 260,000 service members have been diagnosed with the invisible wounds of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress as a result of combat-related injuries and accidents.
To treat and care for those service members suffering from the most severe forms of traumatic brain injury, known as TBI, and post-traumatic stress, or PTS, the first of nine planned, nationwide Intrepid Spirit Centers officially opened its doors at Fort Belvoir, Va., in a dedication ceremony sponsored by the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a $100-million campaign funded entirely with donations from public and private sources.
Though the Fort Belvoir facility held its dedication ceremony Sept. 11, the center has been in operation for two months and has thus far treated some 80 patients, said emcee Martin Edelman, a trustee with the fund.
Edelman added that the ribbon-cutting ceremony also signified the transfer of the $11-million, 25,000-square-foot center to the Defense Department. He said a second satellite center will open at Camp Lejeune, N.C., in October, and a third at Fort Campbell, Ky., in mid-2014.
President of the non-profit fund David Winters said plans are being looked over to build and equip satellite centers at Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Carson, Colo.; and Fort Bliss, Texas; as well as Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. All will be built and equipped from donations, then gifted to DOD.
All Intrepid Spirit Centers will be located at military bases and medical centers around the country to provide medical care for service members without having to separate them from their units or leave their families for extended treatment periods. The centers are designed to enhance rehabilitation, officials said.
The design and mission of the satellite centers was based on the original National Intrepid Center of Excellence, or NICoE, which opened at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., in 2010. It’s the most advanced facility of its kind in the country and serves as the center of the military’s efforts in researching, diagnosing and treating TBI, PTS and related injuries.
Guest speakers at the ribbon-cutting ceremony included Arnold Fisher, honorary chairman of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund; Col. Charles Callahan, commander, Fort Belvoir Community Hospital; Dr. Heechin Chae, director, Fort Belvoir Intrepid Spirit Center and Intrepid Spirit patient Sgt. Maj. Robert Haemmerle who told the story of his recovery from the extreme, invisible signature wounds he received in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Capping the ceremony and speaking on behalf of senior leadership across all the services, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John F. Campbell reminded the audience that there are still 50,000-plus Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, Sailors, Coast Guardsmen and civilians who continue to be in harm’s way in Afghanistan and many will need the type of help the Intrepid Spirit Centers offer.
“In this short month of September, the Army has already faced close to 50 wounded and in the months of June and July, it was in the hundreds for wounded and that will continue and we seem to forget that,” he said. “What makes this event here extra special is to have the opportunity to honor our warriors who have sacrificed so much on Patriots’ Day, a day of service and a day of remembrance 12 years later.
“We are succeeding in recruiting America’s finest to serve in all of our military and that is a direct result of our commitment to programs like this that care for injured Soldiers and their families. If we lose that commitment, if we waiver in that commitment, we lose,” Campbell said. “We thank all of you for enabling the loyal and experienced warriors and their families who want to continue to serve.”
Later in the day, First Lady Michelle Obama toured the Intrepid Spirit Center and nearby USO. She visited with wounded warriors and their families.