Families Get Tools to Assist Injured Loved Ones

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

BETHESDA, Md., Sept. 24, 2010 – Family support is a key factor in
the long-term recovery process and success of wounded warriors
suffering traumatic brain injuries and other mental health problems,
said senior staff members at the National Naval Medical Center here.

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
supporting families.”

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.”

It’s a
commitment he said the military and the nation owe its wounded warriors –
not just during their initial care, but into the future.

“We now
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.)


  1. “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 is.” -Navy Vice Adm. (Dr.) Adam M. Robinson Jr –
    There is so much I would like to say here regarding our injured and their families. I’ll try to keep it brief with praise for military medicine and the advances they have made in so many areas including TBI and PTS (appreciate them not calling it a disorder as in PTSD).
    My heart goes out to those wounded Warriors and their families that will transition into the VA system with prayers that they will be under the watchful eyes of the Warriors with whom they served. As most that read here know the VA has regional offices and hospitals and not all regional offices and hospitals are equal. When our wounded Warriors go home it will be the luck of the draw as to the care they receive depending on the region they call home. This is the time when the wounded Warrior and his or her family will need back up from those they served with to insure the wounded Warrior and his or her family is treated with the utmost respect and gets the care he or she deserves, has earned and is owed by every adult citizen in this Republic.
    I won’t go into our personal experience and the experience of families and friends but will say those experiences range from outstanding care to nightmare scenarios depending on the location of the regional VA hospital.
    I’m just sayin’ watch their six for them and if you have to get them out of a lousy VA and move them to a good one then do that too. What ever it takes. Been there done that and have the great comfort 41 years later of knowing my Warrior had the best of care until he made that final roll call where he was saluted by those two Marines guarding the gates of heaven. 🙂

  2. So much for being brief! But there are some things that just need sayin’ and I’d be remiss not to share those hard lessons the Vietnam Veteran and his familiy learned along the way. We love and respect this generation of Warriors and their families to much to let you walk into a possible ambush.

  3. Were they sticking mostly on the sides or just the bottoms. Maybe putting a small circle of parchment on the bottom will help? I think muffin papers would only tear off the crusts when you peel them off.I know that egg washes tend to make my stuff stick more perhaps omitting that. The wash is only an aesthetic thing not something I think would affect the taste. link my name now.

  4. Apart from the damage caused by an injury, the patient and his or her family must endure the trauma that such injuries result in. It is not easy to accept that your life has been impaired in some way or another due to that unfortunate episode in your life, and professional support is crucial to come out of the physical and mental problems that injuries bring with them. Education and professional competence are the key requirements to make sure that the patient lives a normal life.

  5. Health is so precious and here I am not only referring to physical strength but also to psychological well-being. These soldiers go through so many traumas and fear that it affects them all throughout their life. Ultimately, they are protecting all of us and the liberty of our nation. When they finish they work or suffer an unfortunate injury, they desperately need their family to be with them as they help in their recovery process.

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