The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury

The war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have produced a dramatic increase in the number of patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). In 2007, the Defense Department established Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) to help create a global network of resources to promote resilience, recovery and reintegration for the warfighters who experienced PTSD or TBIs. SDI helped create the initial strategic communication plan for DCoE and has been supporting the agency since its inception.

It’s been nearly a year since Navy Capt. Paul S. Hammer took the helm as DCoE director. A lot has happened since then. The organization became leaner, going from six component centers last year to three centers this year, and reduced its directorates to five. It is also being realigned from Tricare Management Activity to the Army’s Medical Research and Material Command.

These new changes have meant exciting opportunities for our SDI team at DCoE. For example, they oversaw a new direction of the DCoE newsletter, which went from a monthly PDF format to an online news room, where “hot-off-the-press” information can be posted immediately. This enables the growing DCoE audience to get the information they need right away, rather than waiting until the end of the month.

We’re proud that our SDI team produces much of the high-quality blog and news room content you see at DCoE every day, such as the “creed for a comrade” multimedia message we did about suicide prevention awareness in the military, or the “boots on the ground” blog series we wrote to better prepare families, reserve component members, providers and active duty service members for deployment. It’s all part of the DCoE mission to promote resources and tools to improve the psychological health of service members, veterans and families, and those who have experienced a traumatic brain injury.

This year, we blogged about a diverse range of issues, including spiritual fitness and how the National Football League Players Association teams up with the Real Warriors Campaign to bring together former football greats and military veterans to discuss life experiences and challenges. We blogged about DCoE screening the National Geographic award-winning documentary Restrepo, a film about service members stationed in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan, named “the deadliest place on earth” by CNN in 2007.

We wrote about service members getting treatment for PTSD through virtual worlds technology and how fly fishing and art therapy eased the effects of PTSD on veterans. We engaged in a successful virtual event on Facebook for a month, called “Meet My Helmet,” where we promoted the use and importance of wearing helmets for both military and civilian activities. We highlighted the campaign launched by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden to support military families called “Joining Forces” and also discussed new mobile apps for service members and providers.

We talked about the exciting new field of telehealth and wrote about being prepared in case natural disasters strike – like when the earthquake hit Washington, D.C. this past summer! We started a “Success before Stress” blog series, highlighting the importance of money management, personal responsibility and healthy relationships. Our SDI team also wrote about the stories of brave service men and women who intervened and prevented a suicide, as part of a “Readers get Personal” campaign, designed to inspire others by their selfless actions.

We noted new ways to treat PTSD such as using canine therapy and acupuncture and highlighted the successful partnership between DCoE and Sesame Workshop. We also developed DCoE Information Sheets, fact sheets designed to provide concise information about DCoE, its centers and key programs to service members, the public and congressional staff, which have been disseminated across the country at conferences and have been downloaded nearly 50,000 times.

The end of the U.S. presence in Iraq has little impact on the pace of activities. Looking ahead to 2012, our team will be promoting four major campaigns at DCoE: Brain Injury Awareness Month in March; Mental Health Awareness Month in May; Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in September; and emerging technologies for treating psychological health and TBI in November.

It’s been a rewarding year for us here at SDI and we’re proud of the work we’ve done at DCoE. We look forward to updating you in 2012!