Eglin’s Invisible Wounds Center to Become Part of New TBI, Post-Traumatic Stress Center

The Intrepid Spirit Center planned for Eglin AFB, Fla., is depicted in an artist rendering. Courtesy graphic.

The Invisible Wounds Center at Eglin AFB, Fla., will soon become part of a new, state-of-the-art medical center specializing in traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, and pain thanks to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a nonprofit that builds treatment facilities for US military service members dealing with TBI and PTS.

Construction is slated to start in May, and is expected to be completed the same time next year, said Arnold Fisher, an honorary chairman of the fund.

These facilities, known as Intrepid Spirit Centers, are located on military installations nationwide, and let service members get diagnosed and receive treatment closer to home, Fisher told Air Force Magazine in an email response to questions.

“These centers act as ‘gymnasiums for the brain,’ providing service members with the most advanced care available to address the complex symptoms of TBI and PTS,” he explained.

Eglin’s Invisible Wounds Center—which was borne out of USAF’s Invisible Wounds Initiative and provides care to Active Duty airmen suffering from these conditions, in addition to pain—opened in August 2018 “in a temporary modular building,” Ilka Cole, a 96th Test Wing spokesperson, told Air Force Magazine via email.

According to Cole, the IWC “assembled teams of numerous specialties to blend the best of traditional medicine and procedures with proven integrative therapeutic tools such as acupuncture, art and music therapy, yoga, mind-body medicine, electrical nerve stimulation, and low-level energy therapies, among others.”

The fund, moved by the close alignment of its centers’ mission and that of the IWC—which was actually patterned after Intrepid Spirit Center best practices—“offered to provide the necessary support to build an ISC on the base,” Cole explained.

This offer came in while USAF was in the process of requesting DOD military construction funds to cover the cost of a permanent IWC, Thomas Piazza, IWC medical director, told Air Force Magazine via email. The service hopes the partnership will bring its vision for a permanent center to faster fruition and enable it to become “part of a family of facilities nationally recognized for their support to service members with invisible wounds,” he said.

“Given that the approaches, manning, and services offered are nearly identical, the transition of the Invisible Wounds Center into an ISC will be seamless for patients,” Cole said.

Eglin appealed to the fund and USAF leadership because of the number of special operators and battlefield airmen that call it home, Fisher said. Both groups are likely to have seen “substantial action” over the course of multiple deployments, he explained, so they’re more exposed to TBI and post-traumatic stress.

Piazza said the Intrepid Spirit Center will add to and improve upon the IWC’s capabilities.

It will include“a full interventional pain suite” equipped with radiography and ultrasound, “dedicated neuro-optometry equipment and eye lane, more vestibular, cognitive, and occupational therapy rooms and equipment, custom neurobiofeedback capability, transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy,” and devices for drug-free pain relief, he explained. It will also add a telehealth suite and a weapons simulation laboratory, he said.

Additionally, it will be 7,000 square feet larger than the IWC—featuring “private space” for chaplain-service member meetings, bigger meeting areas “for education, outreach, and family involvement”—with further outdoor space available “with therapeutic purposes,” Piazza said.

The name of the new center, however, is still up in the air.

“There are discussions currently underway between the Intrepid Spirit Centers and the National Intrepid Center of Excellence that would standardize all Intrepid Spirit Centers to utilize common nomenclature,” he said. “A name combining the two entities is being considered at Eglin.”

Fisher said the Intrepid Spirit Centers were born out of collaborative brainstorming between the fund and military officials about how to collectively assist service members dealing with these conditions.

“According to DOD figures, over 50,000 Air Force personnel have been diagnosed with TBI since 2000, and many more suffer TBI but haven’t been diagnosed,” Fisher said. However, he noted, more than 90 percent of service members treated at these centers can return to Active Duty.

The fund builds the centers—coordinating private funding to pay for their construction—and then donates them to the military. Once they become operational, Fisher explained, the Defense Department takes over. The 96th Medical Group at Eglin will handle day-to-day operations at the facility once it transitions to DOD, he said.