This isn’t the first time the The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting service members with TBI or PTSD, has launched a center devoted to these “invisible wounds.”
“We are extremely proud to open our eighth Intrepid Spirit Center at Eglin Air Force Base, the first Intrepid Spirit Center at an Air Force Base,” Arnold Fisher, honorary chairman of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, said in a news release. “Our military heroes who fight to protect our freedoms, deserve the best care available and being close to their family and having their support is imperative to the recovery process. We are now one step closer to completing our mission of building Intrepid Spirit Centers around the United States.”
More than 400,000 service members have been diagnosed with TBI since 2000, according to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. Likewise, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates as many as 20 percent of veterans who served in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom are impacted by post-traumatic stress disorder in a given year.
Because Eglin is home to units with frequent combat deployments, it sees many service members who have been diagnosed with TBI or PTSD, making it a natural fit to house the Intrepid Spirit Center, an IFHF spokesperson told Air Force Times.
These units include the 919th Special Operations Wing, Air Force Special Operations Command, the U.S. Army’s 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), the 6th Ranger Training Battalion, among others. Altogether, more than 18,500 active duty service members are based out of Eglin, according to IFHF.
The facility currently has the capacity to administer multi-specialty care to 200 active-duty service members through its outpatient program, and preparations to accommodate up to 50 more service members who are not locally based are already in the works.
Intrepid Spirit Centers that IFHF has built are already open at other military installations, including Fort Belvoir in Virginia, Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, and Camp Pendleton in California. Additionally, there are plans for two more Intrepid Spirit Centers — one at Fort Carson in Colorado and another at Fort Bliss in Texas, per an IFHF spokesperson.
All centers are located on military installations and are modeled after the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland, which is devoted to treating and studying TBI and PTSD.
Similarly, Eglin’s Invisible Wounds Center originally opened in September 2018 and was based off of the Intrepid Spirit Centers. There, staff could provide service members with treatment including art and music therapy, yoga, physical and occupational therapy, along with mental health services.
That will all continue at the new and more spacious Intrepid Spirit Center, which is close to the 96th Medical Group’s main building and can accommodate “dozens” of additional, “cutting-edge” therapies and equipment, according to Dr. Thomas Piazza, director of the Eglin Invisible Wounds Center and now the Intrepid Spirit Center.
A total of 35 personnel currently work at the Intrepid Spirit Center and more are expected to join the team in 2021.
“As we transition the mission of the Invisible Wounds Center to the Intrepid Spirit Center, our current staff and patients will move to our beautiful new facility, one that provides significantly enhanced services,” Piazza said in a news release. “We will continue to provide comprehensive, holistic care to our current patients and accept new active duty Service Member referrals from the region.”
“We are opening with limited capabilities due to the pandemic, adding telehealth solutions and awaiting return to full operating capability,” Piazza said.
The 25,000-square-foot center, which cost $11.2 million, took approximately 13 months to complete. The IFHF raised the funds privately , and now has turned over operations and management to the Department of Defense.