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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Houston VA Psychologist Wins VA Award

May 15, 2009

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Wright Williams, Ph.D., a Trauma Recovery Program clinical psychologist, and U.S Air Force veteran John D. Collins (right) attended the special showing of “Resilience to Trauma” at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center on April 24, 2008. Collins, who was a World War II prisoner of war from August 1943 to April 1944, shared his experiences in the documentary. PHOTO: Bobbi Gruner


HOUSTON - Recently, Wright Williams, Ph.D., a Trauma Recovery Program clinical psychologist at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC), was awarded the 2009 Department of Veteran Affairs South Central MIRECC Excellence in Education Award.

A MIRECC is a Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center. Congress established MIRECCs in October 1996 through public law 104-262. There are currently ten MIRECCs; the South Central MIRECC has five administrative sites and one is located in Houston. Each MIRECC focuses on mental illnesses or conditions common in veterans. MIRECCs investigate the causes of mental illness, develop new treatments for mental illness, and evaluate both established and new treatments with the goal of identifying best practices. The MIRECCs also develop educational and training initiatives to implement best practices into the clinical settings of the VA. Each MIRECC works with all the facilities in its region on research, education, and clinical initiatives, evaluating services offered to the veteran, and helping implement improved treatments, services, or practices.

The award presented to Williams is given to the individual who made the greatest contribution toward advancing MIRECC goals in education in the past year. Williams’ work on a documentary featuring the true stories of several World War II prisoners of war was the most requested South Central MIRECC clinical education product in 2008 with more than 250 requests; more than any other product that year.

The 56-minute film, “Resilience to Trauma,” focuses on a group of men who have endured unspeakable trauma and still successfully navigated life. Their stories are intended to help other victims of trauma learn how to thrive despite their experiences. These men have seen the worst humanity has to offer and have struggled with the effects of those events. While they all happen to be former prisoners of war from World War II, they believe their experiences apply to all combat veterans. They are remarkably candid about themselves, the traumas they have lived through, and the lives they have led.

“These veterans deserve and have earned our respect, our thanks, and our gratitude. This film is really about veterans helping other veterans. The hope is that another veteran from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, or the current conflicts in Iraq or Afghanistan will be touched and begin to live differently. The ultimate goal is that these veterans’ journeys, and their resilience, will echo down the generations of returning warriors,” said Williams.

One veteran who shares his story in the documentary is John Gutierrez. A 19-year-old, Army Air Corps gunner, Gutierrez’ Flying Fortress, a four-engine heavy bomber aircraft, was shot down over Kassel, Germany on July 28, 1943. After almost two years imprisonment of which 20 months were spent in the infamous Stalag XVIIB, he was one of more than 4,000 prisoners of war forced to endure an 18-day, 281-mile march through rugged, freezing Austrian terrain when the Germans fled the approach of Russian forces. On May 7, 1945, he was liberated by Patton’s Third Army.

The MEDVAMC offers full interdisciplinary, mental health assessments of all patients and provides on-site, in-patient treatment as needed, medication management, individual and group therapy, post-traumatic stress disorder education groups, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse dual diagnosis groups, an intensive day hospital program, a sexual trauma track, a trauma recovery program, applied research such as medication trial and psychotherapy, specialized smoking cessation program, alumni peer support groups, and coordination and formal consultation with the Houston Vet Centers.

To obtain a DVD copy of “Resilience to Trauma,” send an email to Limited quantities are available.

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