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Burr visits injured Marines aboard Camp Lejeune

by Karissa Blackburn

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U.S. Sen. Richard Burr is greeted by Navy Captain Thomas Johnson Director of the Intrepid Spirit Clinic before visiting the Intrepid Center at Camp Lejeune on Friday.
Photo by John Sudbrink / The Daily News
A U.S. Senator visited injured Marines aboard a local base Friday to better understand traumatic brain injuries and mental health issues.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC, visited the Intrepid Spirit Concussion Recovery Center at Camp Lejeune Friday afternoon where he toured the facility and interacted with patients.

Intrepid Spirit is the second of nine satellite facilities to open under the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, a treatment facility for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. According to Director Tom Johnson the facility uses a “holistic, integrative, interdisciplinary program that was set up to meet the needs of service members who had sustained a traumatic brain injury and also had co-morbidities such as PTSD, depression, chronic pain issues, orthopedic issues.”

Service members undergo a standardized evaluation by an interdisciplinary team who work closely with the service member and his or her family to develop a treatment plan. This plan includes treatments such as occupational and physical therapy, neurology, etc. paired with art therapy, therapeutic writing, yoga, and other holistic principles.

Johnson said Burr taking the time to visit was important to the patients.

“When … they see a senator coming here, it really encourages them and validates them,” Johnson said. “It makes them feel that the country hasn’t forgotten about them, but is also making every effort to support them after they’ve served in the military or after they’ve returned from deployment.”

Burr said he believed that the facility is an incredible asset to the base.

“I think it shows just how much insight that we have in the things that our troops are exposed to,” Burr said. “It’s refreshing to see an effort like this where we’re talking about how we make people better and back to where they were when they came in.”

The clinic has the capacity to assess more than 1,000 patients per year. Staff includes physicians, mentors, speech therapists, neurologists, neuropsychologists, spiritual counselors, case managers and more. The clinic has on average 70 monthly referrals with 12-18 new service members in the program per week. Nearly 90 percent of patients are ready to return to full duty after treatment.

Burr said he hoped his visit will help him understand more about the healing process involved with TBI and mental health. America struggles with brain injury as a problem not only in the military, but also in the general population, he said.

“We deal with mental health in the VA, but we don’t do it very successfully,” Burr said. “So, I wanted to see the process that’s followed here so that we could take lessons learned on the active duty side and maybe transfer those to the VA side.”    

Burr also believes that collaboration between the military and the private sector could be beneficial for the general public by sharing the knowledge and skills used at the facility.

“It may be an individual who went through a car crash,” Burr said, “And now we’ve got a new procedure that was discovered here that the private sector could follow.”

This is a mindset that the facility seems to agree with as well. The future of the Intrepid Spirit involves partnerships to evolve into an integrated research program to improve the care of service members, but also civilians with TBI.

Burr says that one of the biggest challenges the military currently faces is a deployment tempo that he says far exceeds anything the country has seen in history, but he hopes to support them in any way he can through his elected position.

“That puts stress on the service members, but it puts tremendous stress on the families,” Burr said. “So we’re trying to work with the military to understand that better. And to make sure that they’ve got the resources they need, both in personnel and in equipment to carry out whatever operations they are asked to do in the most efficient way.”