New center at CU Anschutz could create national model for veterans' care
The Denver Post
AURORA — A new treatment center at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus announced Friday will provide a national model of how to care for the psychological and physical damage of war, campus officials and veterans advocates said.
The facility, which could begin offering some services as early as this summer, will provide a place for veterans to receive comprehensive treatment in one place — whether they need treatment for a traumatic brain injury, counseling for post-traumatic stress, physical therapy or other care. The center plans also to offer alternative therapies such as acupuncture and yoga, and its location on the Anschutz Medical Campus means that more complicated treatment — such as for prosthetics — is all within a few blocks.
That kind of centralized, big-picture care is critical for veterans, who often bounce between doctors and have to try to navigate the medical system on their own, said Pete Scobell, a retired Navy SEAL who served six combat deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries and suffered from post-deployment stress and brain injury as a result.
“What I learned is that our current health care system is not set up to solve problems,” Scobell said Friday at the center’s unveiling. “It’s set up to treat symptoms.”
“This,” he said referring to the new center, “is not the short game. This is the long game.”
The center will be called the Marcus Institute for Brain Health. It is being paid for by a $38 million gift from Bernard Marcus, a co-founder of The Home Depot who devotes much of his philanthropic efforts to helping veterans. On Friday, he called the current level of care for veterans, “the shame of the country.”
The institute will be housed, at least to start, in the Anschutz Campus’ Health and Wellness Center. Marcus said he hopes the CU institute will be the first of many private-sector facilities across the country to provide veterans with whole-person care in a single place.
“That’s the goal, and that’s what we’re starting with today,” he said. “This is only the first step.”
That first step, though, has been years in the making — and builds on progress the military has made in caring for active-duty service members.
In 2011, a suicide bomber’s blast just 10 feet away tossed Army Staff Sgt. Spencer Milo off his feet and into the group of more than 600,000 service members and veterans suffering from what Milo, who also suffered head injuries in Iraq, calls the “invisible wounds” of war: traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress and depression.
When Milo returned from his deployment in Afghanistan, though, there was new hope for treatment in the form of a freshly opened comprehensive treatment center at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. At the hospital’s National Intrepid Center of Excellence, service members had their needs addressed individually, at the same time and in the same place.
“The program at NICoE truly saved my life,” Milo said in an interview this week. “Saved my life, saved my marriage, everything.”
Currently, though, that kind of care is not available to veterans. The Veterans Affairs hospitals across the country are able to provide care to honorably discharged veterans, and the Marcus Institute hopes to work with the local veterans hospital to connect veterans to specialty care at the center.
But veterans who were dishonorably or other-than-honorably dischargedare not eligible for benefits — even if the circumstances of their discharge were related to their post-traumatic stress or brain injury. It’s those veterans who Milo, now working as an outreach specialist at the Marcus Institute, hopes to focus on at first.
He will be joined in the work by a familiar face, Dr. Jim Kelly, who was the founding director of NICoE and ran it while Milo was a patient there. Kelly, a longtime CU professor, helped conceive the idea for the Marcus Institute and will serve as its executive director.
“This is the one that I think is really going to tip the scales,” he said.
The institute will run on Marcus’ donation for the first five years, and Kelly said he hopes to work with retired athletes or veterans organizations after that to keep it going and possibly expand its reach. The institute will accept payment from insurance when it’s available, but Kelly said veterans receiving services at the center won’t have to pay anything.
Milo hopes what they receive at the institute will be invaluable.
“Basically,” he said, “when they leave, they’re going to see a path forward.”