Families Get Tools to Assist Injured Loved Ones
By Donna Miles
BETHESDA, Md., Sept. 24, 2010 – Family support is a key factor in
The hospital’s psychological health and traumatic brain injury team
represents the first line of defense in evaluating combat casualties for
brain and other mental health injuries.
As they collaborate with
their trauma team counterparts to provide a comprehensive assessment
and treatment plan, they also work hand in hand with the family members
they recognize as critical to the patient’s recovery.
are really the key thing, especially parents and spouses,” Dr. David
Williamson, medical director for the Inpatient Psychological Heath and
Traumatic Brain Injury program, told American Forces Press Service. “So
in our program, we are reaching out to educating and working with and
The PHTBI team members, a mix of brain
surgeons, psychiatrists, psychologists and other specialists, provides
families emotional support to deal with their loved ones’ situations.
“As we work with families, our question is, ‘How are the families
doing? How are they adjusting to having a loved one who is a trauma
patient? How is their resilience? How is their level of adjustment?’”
Williamson said. “And we support and work with families to make sure
they can best support the servicemember.”
Education is a big part
of that effort. The team’s adult education specialist provides family
members details about traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress
so they can make informed medical decisions on their loved ones’
behalf, if necessary, Williams explained.
This also equips them
to raise a red flag if they recognize symptoms requiring health-care
intervention. “We begin that process of education very early, and start
telling families early on what might happen and if it does, to bring
your loved one in to see a mental health provider,” he said.
The team also sets the families up with a mental health provider to establish a relationship to build on later, if required.
Valerie Wallace, whose son, Army Sgt. John Barnes, was treated at the
National Naval Medical Center for a severe traumatic brain injury
suffered during a mortar attack in Iraq, called this family-centered
approach a godsend. She worked closely with the entire PHTBI team as
Barnes underwent assessment and treatment, and praised its inclusive
approach to treating the complex issues of brain injury. The treatment
“has made all the difference in John,” she said.
Navy Vice Adm.
(Dr.) Adam M. Robinson Jr., the Navy’s surgeon general, has been a major
driver in the military’s renewed focus in putting patients and their
families first within its health care program.
“The key to
successful medical care is to be focused on the patient and the family –
not the provider, not the institution, not the military brass, not
anyone else but the patient and the family,” he said. “We have to keep
in mind the principle that if we take care of the patient and take care
of the family, the rest usually will flow together.”
commitment he said the military and the nation owe its wounded warriors –
not just during their initial care, but into the future.
know this may be a very lengthy, and in some cases, a lifelong
process,” he said. “And we, from a military medical perspective, have to
be committed to keeping up with these patients and their families.”
Robinson conceded that the military is an institution built on polices
and doctrines. “But injuries and family conditions and the needs of
patients don’t necessarily follow policy or doctrine,” he said. “They
follow the individual and idiosyncratic needs of patients and their
That demands that military health care providers, and
the military health care system, be agile and flexible enough to follow
with them, Robinson said.
“Our policies and our doctrine should
always enhance our patients and their families,” he said. “They should
never obstruct or detract from their ability to become whole and to get
Robinson credited the National Naval Medical Center,
through its treatment programs for wounded warriors, with helping to set
that tone throughout the military.
“The signs are wonderful,” he
said. “But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. You need to look
at families, look at patients, at outcomes and at how the providers are
carrying out their treatments, and that’s how you assess where the focus
(This is the third in a series of four articles about the
military’s revolutionary new approaches to treating patients with
traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress.)