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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Young Veterans Find Support, Encouragement, and Brotherhood at VA's Polytrauma Day Treatment Program

August 1, 2007

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On July 19, 2007, the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center held a graduation ceremony for the first class of its Polytrauma Day Treatment Program. After the celebration, class member and U.S. Army veteran Xavier Negrete chatted with his Occupational Therapist Tracey Kessel, OTR.
PHOTO: Bobbi Gruner, MEDVAMC Public Affairs Officer


HOUSTON – On July 19, 2007, the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) held a graduation ceremony for the first class of its Polytrauma Day Treatment Program.

In the past, veterans undergoing rehabilitation for polytrauma and traumatic brain injuries received specialized individual therapy. However, because research shows individuals greatly benefit from the mentorship and fellowship in group settings involving others with similar injuries, the MEDVAMC added a Polytrauma Day Treatment Program to its array of services for veterans of the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In August 2005, the MEDVAMC was designated a Polytrauma Network Site, providing specialized, post-acute rehabilitation in consultation with the VA Rehabilitation Centers in a setting appropriate to the needs of veterans, service members, and families.  These Network Sites provide proactive case management for existing and emerging conditions and identify local resources for VA and non-VA care.

The first graduates included two Army veterans, one Marine Corps veteran, one active duty Army soldier, and one active duty Navy sailor. One was injured when his armored vehicle struck an improvised explosive device while on routine patrol in Iraq, while the other four were injured in accidents stateside.

“The idea behind the Day Treatment Program is veterans are integrated into a group of five or ten and they go through a portion of their rehabilitation together,” said Nicholas J. Pastorek, Ph.D., clinical neuropsychologist, Rehabilitation Care Line. “They learn together, motivate each other, give hope and emotional support to each other, interact, and challenge each other.”

The program includes sessions focusing on cognitive rehabilitation, social and life skills, motor and endurance, techniques to return to work or school, health and behavior information, and resuming life with family and friends.  In addition, the group chooses, plans, and makes trips into the community. One such trip was to the Houston Fine Arts Museum to view the Arms and Armor collection.

“The best part of the trip was when Xavier left his wheelchair, stood up, and walked up a flight of stairs by himself,” said U.S. Army service member Dominic Franco of his classmate, U.S. Army veteran Xavier Negrete.  Of his own goals, Franco says he is working to improve his balance so he can surf again.

Unlike some programs outside the VA, group therapy sessions in the MEDVAMC Day Treatment Program involve a team effort with at least two different specialties. The team consists of experts from occupational therapy, physical therapy, kinesiotherapy, blind rehabilitation, audiology, prosthetics, vocational rehabilitation, social work, speech and language pathology, psychology, and neuropsychology.

“In the program, we work together on posture, breathing, keeping eye contact during conversations, problem solving, and organization skills,” said U.S. Navy service member Patrick Nyangani, who plans to return to active duty in Connecticut in the next few weeks to continue his naval training.

“But, the best part is just to have someone to talk to who understands what you are going through,” said U.S. Marine Corps veteran Russell “Rusty” Brooks, who saw combat as a sniper in Iraq.

To assist with organizational skills, time management, and thought processes, many group members are provided with personal digital assistants (PDA) and the necessary training to use them. In addition to storing such critical information as medical appointments, when to take medicine, and contact information for health care providers, the PDA sounds an alarm for useful reminders.

“Our goal is to help injured veterans and service members achieve their highest possible level of recovery and functioning, and maximize their level of independence,” said Carol Gustafson, M.S., CCC-SLP, speech and language pathologist, Operative Care Line. “We are a tool for these patients to use for their recovery and community reintegration.”

Depending on individual medical needs, graduates from the Day Treatment Program continue with individual therapy and may participate in a post-graduation, long-term support group.

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