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Brain injury center to open on Naval Medical Center campus next year

by Andrew Ujifusa | Staff Writer

A Bethesda medical facility for soldiers with critical brain injuries and their families is under construction after being stalled by a funding shortage at the start of the year.

Work on the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, located on the National Naval Medical Center campus, began last month and is roughly 10 percent complete, according to officials. The center is expected to be operational in June 2010, although the formal opening ceremony for the center could come a few months afterwards. It was previously scheduled to open next February.

As part of the treatment process for wounded soldiers, the Intrepid Center will feature motion capture and neural technology, a driving simulator and a sleep laboratory, along with other diagnostic and therapy tools.

The facility will treat and house 250 to 500 wounded soldiers, along with their families, who will live in quarters attached to the center and have access to educational opportunities to learn how to deal with traumatic brain injury. There is also a "Central Park" portion of the Intrepid Center that will function as an open space for patients and their families.

After experiencing funding shortages in January, plans for the Intrepid Center were scaled back, bringing the cost for the center from $75 million to $60 million, according to Bill White, executive director of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund that is building the center. He said both the fund and the construction company building the center had identified ways to make the center smaller and less costly.

So far, the Fallen Heroes Fund has raised $57 million for the facility over the past year and plans to raise the remaining $3 million while construction is taking place.

"These kids can't wait any longer for our attention, and that is the attention of the country on this debilitating issue of traumatic brain injury," White said. "We needed to start this right away."

He said the $7 million that had been raised since the start of the year came primarily from local fundraisers, and that 35 such events were taking place across the country this month to raise money for the center. The Fallen Heroes Fund will donate the center to the Army and Navy upon its completion, and the center will share the Bethesda campus with the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, set to open in September 2011 as part of the Base Realignment and Closure process.

"The TBI (traumatic brain injury) center is an integral part of what the new Walter Reed center is all about," said Phil Alperson, the county's BRAC coordinator.

White stressed that the core technologies and treatments available to soldiers suffering from traumatic brain injury were not affected by the cost-cutting measures. He said some of the space that had been eliminated from the facility (originally planned for 72,000 square feet) could be added after the Intrepid Center opens if the money is found.

In a June 16 statement, County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) also praised the leadership shown by the area's congressional delegation in saving the Intrepid Center through legislative action.

Leggett said U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) of Baltimore and U.S. Rep. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D-Dist.8) of Kensington were crucial in removing a provision from the federal government's fiscal 2009 supplemental appropriations bill that would have eliminated funding for a new gym at Navy Med. The new gym is necessary because the current gym is scheduled to be demolished to make way for the Intrepid Center.

"Constructing a new gymnasium is a small price to pay in order to accommodate the new Intrepid TBI Center of Excellence," Leggett said.

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