A highly visible partnership was recently affirmed in the fight against wounds to Soldiers that have the capability to be invisible, but devastating.
The fight against traumatic brain injuries was formalized between Fort Irwin and the University of California at Los Angeles Health System when leadership representatives of both organizations signed a memorandum of agreement, here, March 31. Colonel Cheryl Taylor-Whitehead, commander of United States Army Medical Department Activity here, and Shannon O’ Kelley, chief operating officer of UCLA Health System, signed an MOA prior to the start of a TBI Summit, which brought experts from UCLA and the Army together to discuss the battle against TBI’s.
Retired Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli, chief executive officer of One Mind for Research, took part in the summit. Before retiring in 2012, and as Army Vice Chief of Staff, Chiarelli led the way in reducing the number of suicides occurring in the Army. One of his strategies was to de-stigmatize behavior health issues.
At the summit, Chiarelli stressed the importance of Army leaders setting an environment where Soldiers can openly seek medical treatment for TBI. He explained that leaders have a responsibility to learn about TBI and the treatment required for Soldiers to get better. Part of that responsibility is understanding that therapy may require releasing a Soldier from training for multiple therapy sessions.
Chiarelli stressed the significance of the Army collaborating with civilian medical institutions. He described the signing of the MOA as great progress and informed the summit audience of how fortunate they were to be in proximity to the UCLA medical community.
Several medical experts from UCLA briefed the summit audience, which consisted of National Training Center and Fort Irwin military and civilian leadership. David Hovda, Ph.D. in psychology with a postdoctoral fellowship in neurophysiology and director of the UCLA Brain Injury Research Center, spoke about how a TBI changes the brain and in particular how the brain goes through an energy and metabolic crisis soon after an injury. Oxygen metabolism, glucose metabolism and blood flow are affected and changes can occur in different parts of the brain. Understanding the metabolic crisis might offer an opportunity for brain research to develop a metabolic therapy to treat TBI’s, said Hovda.
Hovda explained that a cultural change needs to occur in regards to TBI diagnosis and treatment.
“Concussion is not some psychological problem,” Hovda said. “It’s a problem that involves a biomechanical force that has acted on the brain. It needs to be thought of as a disease process. Multiple concussions can cause long-term problems in a family’s life.
Head injury does not happen to one person. It happens to the entire family. Everybody participates and everybody suffers. It needs to be thought of as a disease, not as an individual’s disease, not as a family’s disease, but as our country’s disease.”
Hovda praised the efforts to include leadership in the TBI discussion and explained that servicemembers are the key.
“The people we have to reach – it’s not the President of the United States, or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – it’s you people here as leaders and more importantly it’s the Soldier, Marine, Airman – the person who serves our country. They need to realize what their risk is. We’ve re-written the rules for the NCAA for all athletics – we can do the same thing for the military,” Hovda said.