UT Health Science Center joins coalition to combat PTSD and traumatic brain injury

SAN ANTONIO (Jan. 11, 2012) — The School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio and other members of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) today committed to creating a new generation of doctors, medical schools and research facilities that will make sure U.S. military heroes receive the care worthy of their service.

Nicolas E. Walsh, M.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, who served as a Navy SEAL during the Vietnam War, represented the School of Medicine at a ceremony in Richmond, Va. The announcement also included members of the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM).

Recognizing veterans and their families’ sacrifice and commitment, the Health Science Center pledged to mobilize its missions in education, research and clinical care to train the nation’s physicians to meet veterans and their families’ unique health care needs, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury.

“We are honored to participate in the White House Joining Forces initiative to address the health care needs of military service members and veterans and their families,” said William L. Henrich, M.D., MACP, president of the Health Science Center.

“I’m inspired to see our nation’s medical schools step up to address this pressing need for our veterans and military families,” said First Lady Michelle Obama, who created the Joining Forces initiative with Dr. Jill Biden.

Together, the School of Medicine at the Health Science Center, the AAMC and AACOM are committing to enriching medical education along its continuum to ensure that:

  • physicians are aware of the unique clinical challenges and best practices associated with caring for this group;
  • develop new research and clinical trials on PTSD and traumatic brain injury to better understand and treat these conditions;
  • share their information and best practices with each other through a collaborative Web forum created by the AAMC; and
  • grow the body of knowledge leading to improvements in health care and wellness for military service members, veterans and their families.

The School of Medicine is proud to work alongside U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) personnel in the San Antonio Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center, one of the five VA Polytrauma Centers in the country. This center is designed to provide intensive rehabilitative care to veterans and service members who experienced severe injuries (including brain injuries) to more than one organ system. Dr. Walsh is the acting associate chief of staff for rehabilitation with the South Texas Veterans Health Care System, a premiere VA facility in San Antonio. The other centers in the VA Polytrauma System of Care are located in Richmond, Va.; Tampa, Fla.; Minneapolis, Minn.; and Palo Alto, Calif.

“The School of Medicine has a long history of collaboration with the VA,” said Francisco González-Scarano, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine and vice president for medical affairs, UT Health Science Center. “Today’s announcement is an affirmation of the many clinical and basic research initiatives that are changing the standard of care for America’s heroes. We are particularly proud of the many members of our faculty who, like Dr. Walsh, served in the military. They bring their personal experience as well as their medical knowledge to the care of our veterans.”

The term “polytrauma” is defined as a serious injury to two or more body systems that results in physical, cognitive or psychological impairments that limit a person’s ability to function. Traumatic brain injury frequently occurs in polytrauma.

The $67 million San Antonio Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center was dedicated in October 2011.

Marie Weldon, director, South Texas Veterans Health Care System, said, “We certainly appreciate the great working relationship with UT Health Science Center, our academic affiliate. Currently, over 90,000 veterans are enrolled in the South Texas Veterans Health Care System. Our staff of highly trained professionals are frequently called upon by local, state and community agencies to provide training and advice on mental health and polytrauma recovery.”

The South Texas Research Organizational Network Guiding Studies on Trauma and Resilience, or STRONG STAR, is another leading example of the Health Science Center’s commitment to wounded warriors. STRONG STAR is a multidisciplinary and multi-institutional research consortium funded by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Research Program to develop and evaluate the most effective early interventions possible for the detection, prevention and treatment of combat-related PTSD in active-duty military personnel and recently discharged veterans.

Under the leadership of the Health Science Center and based in South-Central Texas, the STRONG STAR Consortium brings together the expertise of a world-class team of military, civilian and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs institutions and investigators and one of the largest populations of active-duty and recently discharged Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom combat veterans in the nation.

With the critical mass of talent required to make major scientific advances in military PTSD research, STRONG STAR investigators hope to improve countless lives by preventing the onset of chronic PTSD in a new generation of veterans.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, one of the country’s leading health sciences universities, ranks in the top 3 percent of all institutions worldwide receiving federal funding. Research and other sponsored program activity totaled $228 million in fiscal year 2010. The university’s schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health professions and graduate biomedical sciences have produced approximately 26,000 graduates. The $744 million operating budget supports eight campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. For more information on the many ways “We make lives better®,” visit www.uthscsa.edu.

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