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The National Intrepid Center of Excellence promotes warfighter brain health during Brain Injury Awareness Month

U.S. Public Health Service Lt. Sherray Holland, education and outreach lead at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, participates in the 2019 Brain Injury Awareness Day event at Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by NICoE Public Affairs) U.S. Public Health Service Lt. Sherray Holland, education and outreach lead at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, participates in the 2019 Brain Injury Awareness Day event at Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by NICoE Public Affairs)

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In observance of Brain Injury Awareness Month, the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, has spent the month of March educating service members, families, caregivers, providers and the public and raising awareness of traumatic brain injury.

For the fifth year, the NICoE hosted a TBI resource fair at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center aimed sharing information about NICoE’s treatment programs, ongoing research studies, and resources available for TBI treatment and recovery. The NICoE worked collaboratively with other government and non-government organizations to draw awareness to this important health observance. The Defense Health Agency’s Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center and the Uniformed Services University’s Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine provided a good forum for learning where the military community and their loved ones can get the information they need.

“Patients want to know if they are eligible to receive treatment at NICoE and how to get referred into the program,” said U.S. Public Health Service Lt. Sherray Holland, education and outreach lead at NICoE, who manned an exhibit at the TBI resource fair. “If I know that this patient isn’t eligible to receive care with us, I can ask our DVBIC colleagues who are at the next exhibitor’s table to provide other resources available for them.”

Holland said family members want to learn how to recognize signs and symptoms of TBI and how to help when their family member is reluctant to seek care. Traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder are often addressed together because they often occur together, according to NICoE, and although there’s been a progressive decrease in the stigma surrounding both TBI and PTSD amongst service member, there’s still work that needs to be done to support families impacted by TBI. Events like the TBI fair are beneficial to staff members as well because it helps them better understand the educational needs of the military community and how they can address those needs effectively said Holland.

The 2019 Military Health System Brain Injury Awareness Month theme is “Advancing Warfighter Brain Health.” This year, NICoE researchers participated in the 2019 National Capital Area TBI Research Symposium at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. This event provided a platform for the center to exchange information on research and healthcare advancements within the areas of traumatic brain injury and psychological health in support of the unique needs of the fighting force.

A scientific poster displayed at the NIH event represented a study that showed that memory difficulties commonly reported by PTSD patients are due, at least in part, to ineffective encoding in memory, which is associated with specific changes in brain activity. A better understanding of these physiological mechanisms may help improve therapies that target cognitive difficulties in patients with PTSD.

NICoE also participated in the 2019 Brain Injury Awareness Day on Capitol Hill, held at the Rayburn building in Washington, D.C. Elected officials and congressional staff heard presentations on TBI research and care, and visited with organizations showcasing a variety of products and resources for service members and providers.

In collaboration with the National Museum of Health and Medicine, an exhibit titled “Visual Voices of the Invisible Wounds of War” showcases works created by NICoE patients during art therapy sessions. Art therapy provides patients a means to explore their psychosocial environment and their inner struggles that otherwise would remain “invisible” to their families and healthcare providers. The exhibit is on display through May 2019.

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