Caring for the invisible wounds of war
UF Health Jacksonville program aimed at helping military veterans opened Nov. 19.
Thousands of U.S. service members are affected by post-traumatic stress, or PTS, as a result of their time in combat. Many veterans also sustain traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs. When they return home, they may struggle with health conditions, such as anxiety, depression and substance use disorder.
Mild to moderate TBIs, PTS, anxiety, depression and substance use disorder are all invisible wounds of war. These conditions contribute to a suicide rate of more than 20 veterans per day, a figure that increases every year. Treating these veterans requires a comprehensive approach to care — one that gives our service members the expertise they deserve.
Thanks to a generous $12.5 million grant from the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network, the UF Health Jacksonville Leon L. Haley, M.D., Brain Wellness Program opened Nov. 19, and is dedicated to helping veterans and their families.
The Haley Brain Wellness Program also received generous donations from the Jacksonville Jaguars Foundation, VyStar Credit Union and THE PLAYERS to help start this transformative effort in Northeast Florida — a region that is home to one of the largest military populations in the country, including Naval Station Mayport and Naval Air Station Jacksonville.
Services are provided at no cost to military veterans.
Interdisciplinary treatment program
The interdisciplinary treatment program for military veterans experiencing persistent health issues associated with mild to moderate TBIs, along with associated behavioral health issues, such as PTS. In addition to serving veterans, UF Health Jacksonville plans to expand efforts for all patients affected by these conditions in the community, including athletes.
The program uses intensive outpatient treatment led by a comprehensive team of psychiatrists, neurologists, neuropsychologists, physical therapists, speech therapists, pharmacists, case managers, integrative therapists and a veteran’s coordinator. Services include acupuncture, animal therapy, behavioral health, healing arts, somatic movement therapies and more.
Three-day assessment for applicants
Prospective patients first complete a thorough application before being scheduled for an assessment. The next step involves an intense three-day assessment in which applicants meet with the providers in a group setting and individually. On the first day of the assessment, the applicant meets with the team to tell their story.
On the second day, the applicant completes individual assessments with each provider. The third day focuses on a virtual group meeting, where the team meets for an hour to discuss their findings and recommendations, and then the applicant joins the meeting and receives a brief summary from the team. Afterward, the applicant attends individual 30-minute virtual sessions with each provider to discuss recommendations.
Retired Col. Michael Sorna, MD, the program’s medical director, served in the U.S. Navy and the Army Reserves for more than 30 years.
“What makes this program particularly effective is the collaborative, multidisciplinary approach,” Sorna said. “Starting with the three-day assessment, patients meet with all of the providers in one room at the beginning and end of the assessment. This allows patients to tell their story to all their providers at one time and for the providers to ask questions as a group, making the individual assessments more effective. Truly, more eyes on the problem, sharing information in real time, improves the quality of care.”
Outpatient treatment model
Patients receive intensive outpatient treatment to integrate conventional medicine with complementary and alternative therapies. The outpatient model customizes treatment for patients to meet their cognitive, emotional, physical and spiritual needs.
The goal of the program is to aid in healing and provide treatment and recovery options for individuals using a holistic approach. It is also important the veterans are set up for success upon completion of the program. Each patient will connect to a network of community resources as part of the long-term treatment plan.
Ron Hasty, veteran outreach coordinator for the Haley Brain Wellness Program, served 22 years in the U.S. Air Force, stationed in England, Germany, Japan and Korea.
“Upon program completion, I assist veterans with finding services they need within the community, such as employment and housing, as well as acting as a liaison between the Department of Veterans Affairs and veterans,” Hasty said.
The UF Health Jacksonville Leon L. Haley, M.D., Brain Wellness Program is located on the downtown campus. Visit UFHealthJax.org/brain-wellness or call 904.244.3289 for more information.