Mary Free Bed, GVSU team up for Wounded Warriors research

November 8, 2010
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Grand Valley State University has received a $1.279 million congressional appropriation to provide and study services at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital to West Michigan veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who suffered traumatic brain injuries during their service.

GVSU Vice Provost for Health Jean Nagelkerk said a total of 34 veterans will be recruited to participate in the U.S. Department of Defense study — the Wounded Warriors Traumatic Brain Injury Project — over the next year.

Researchers will compare their progress in Mary Free Bed’s nationally recognized traumatic brain injury program before and after a 15-member team of hospital staff from a variety of health professions is trained at GVSU in the unique needs of veterans.

“It’s the closest I can come to giving back to young men and women who went overseas to put their lives on the line for us,” added Jacobus Donders, a Ph.D. psychologist at Mary Free Bed who specializes in treating traumatic brain injuries. He is co-investigator on the project, while Nagelkerk is the lead investigator.

Nagelkerk said the project came about when friends and relatives of injured veterans approached GVSU, asking for help.

“We sat down and thought, what can we do for the wounded warriors?” Nagelkerk said. With help from U.S. Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids, the proposal was developed and presented to the DOD.

“What we’re hoping is that by educating health professionals with the military relevance in the community re-integration, that wounded warriors have an easier transition back into their home community,” she said.

“And the other piece for this, there’s no (acute care) VA in Grand Rapids. The closest is Battle Creek. So we’re hoping it’s a little more convenient for wounded warriors to access care nearer to their home community.”

To apply for the Wounded Warriors Project:
Phone: 888-736-0208
E-mail:

WoundedWarriors@MaryFreeBed.com


Web: MaryFreeBed.com/Wounded

Warriors

The VA also is interested in using the project’s staff training modules now being developed by GVSU with input from national and international experts, Nagelkerk added.

Veterans who have experienced traumatic brain injury during military service in Iraq or Afghanistan during the past two years are eligible to participate for free. They can be from anywhere in Michigan, but must be able to provide their own lodging in the Grand Rapids area for the approximately 12 weeks the services will last.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey estimates that 6 percent of the approximately 51,763 veterans living in Kent and Ottawa counties served during the Gulf War era since September 2001.

Donders said the research funding will cover a variety of services ranging from physical and occupational therapy to learning to drive again to job site evaluations to counseling for the veterans and family members. The veterans will undergo assessments before and after the services are provided.

Then, for six weeks, the Mary Free Bed staff involved in the project will undergo training at GVSU. The interdisciplinary crew will include physicians, psychologists, occupational and physical therapists, social workers, case managers and others involved in the care, Nagelkerk said. Their training will include lectures, simulations, small group work, virtual learning and online discussions boards.

After the training, another 17 veterans will receive services from the team at Mary Free Bed. Each group will be interviewed three months after services end to assess how well they have re-integrated and whether the staff training made an impact on their outcomes.

The services are intended to complement those available at the Battle Creek VA Medical Center, Donders said. Mary Free Bed and GVSU are working with the Battle Creek VA hospital and the VA’s Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Grand Rapids to spread information about the newly available services, Donders added.

“The goal of this project is to … provide them with any care of a rehabilitative nature to get them back into their community, into a training program, back into their family, any care that they either cannot get through the VA or that is currently not accessible to them through the VA,” Donders said.

Mary Free Bed staff members with traumatic brain injury treatment experience will work on the project over the next year, and their previous positions will be filled by others. Five full-time equivalent positions at Mary Free Bed will be devoted to the Wounded Warriors project, Donders said.

The VA announced last week that the outpatient clinic in Grand Rapids, which served 17,015 veterans in fiscal 2010, will be expanded to 97,370 square feet, nearly triple its current size, by 2013.

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