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Intrepid spirit to have home

New traumatic brain injury center coming to JBLM

Military brass and representatives from the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund break ground for the new Intrepid Spirit Center at JBLM, Oct. 29. Photo credit: Kevin Knodell

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Brass at Joint Base Lewis-McChord broke ground for the new Intrepid Spirit Center, a facility that will help servicemembers suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Oct. 29. Privately funded by the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund (IFHF), the $11 million facility will be the sixth such center in the country and the first on the West Coast.

Retired Staff Sgt. Spencer Milo, a recipient of Intrepid Spirit treatment at the program's first center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, was on hand to speak to attendees. Today, he's honorary co-chair of the IFHF.

Milo suffered a TBI during his first deployment to Iraq and received treatment at Womack Army Medical Center on Fort Bragg, North Carolina. After treatment, he was able to return to duty.

But during his second deployment, this time to Afghanistan, he was injured again when a child suicide bomber attacked his platoon. After a brief stay at a military hospital in Afghanistan, Milo returned to the front line. But a medic in his unit noticed that he was exhibiting TBI symptoms, and commanders sent him home. He returned to Womack.

"They weren't very happy to see me again," he said.

The doctors attempted to treat him, with little results. Eventually, his caregivers asked him if he'd be willing to go to the new National Intrepid Center of Excellence to try out new treatment methods. He immediately agreed.

"I knew immediately it was different," Milo recalled. "It felt like a spa."

He said that he met all his caregivers at once.

"I only had to tell my story once," he explained. That meant he didn't have to relive his experiences constantly or have to worry about missing key details.

"One of the most important things was they included my family," he said.

That meant his wife wasn't left in the dark about his condition, and caregivers made her a part of the process.

When he went to the program, he had three diagnoses. He left with 27.

"That's actually a good thing," Milo explained.

Doctors were able to identify treatments and cures for most of his ailments, as well as ways to mitigate the lasting effects of his injuries. TBI is a particularly challenging condition to identify and treat.

"It's a spectrum," said Dr. (Col.) Beverly Scott, the current head of JBLM's TBI programs. She explained that some instances of TBI are relatively minor and heal themselves, while other cases can be more severe - and last a lifetime. TBI can occur in combat or in everyday training operations or during sports, she said.

The symptoms of TBI can be exacerbated by other factors and conditions, both external and internal. Prolonged exposure to combat after an injury and post-traumatic stress can make symptoms, and sometimes the injuries themselves, much worse.

But Scott said that today there's much greater awareness of the condition. High-profile cases involving veterans and professional athletes have thrust TBI into the public spotlight like never before. She credits both as a factor for the increased discussion and early identification of symptoms.

The Intrepid Heroes program at JBLM will be an "extension" of what's already offered, Scott said. The new facility will span 25,000 square feet and is expected to open next year.

In the meantime, the current Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic is located in the Madigan Annex, located at Ramp 3, 9921A East Johnson St. & 9921B East Hayes St., Tacoma. For more information, call 253.968.0606.

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