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From Patients to Students: How the Intrepid Spirit Center in Fort Belvoir is Transforming Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Treatments

Image of From Patients to Students: How the Intrepid Spirit Center in Fort Belvoir is Transforming Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Treatments. U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Christine Brady, director of the intrepid spirit center at Fort Belvoir, with poster presentation that highlighted the intrepid spirit university model at the 2024 AMSUS Annual Meeting. (Photo by Brianna Davis)

The National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is the headquarters of the Defense Intrepid Network for Traumatic Brain Injury and Brain Health, which consists of 10 Intrepid Spirit Centers located at military bases throughout the U.S., in addition to two TBI clinics in Alaska and Germany. The centers are designed to treat the invisible wounds of war, such as traumatic brain injury and associated psychological health conditions by utilizing a holistic, patient-centered, interdisciplinary model of care

The network presented several posters at the 2024 Annual Meeting of AMSUS, the Society of Federal Health Professionals, held at the Gaylord National Resort, National Harbor, Maryland, Feb. 12-15, 2024.

One presentation highlighted at the AMSUS meeting is the Intrepid Spirit University Model established at the intrepid center at Fort Belvoir, Virginia—titled, “The Role of Connectedness within the Intrepid Spirit University Model. The center frames its interdisciplinary treatment as the Intrepid Spirit University, where patients are “students” and providers are “teachers” imparting knowledge to assist the student in making lifestyle changes to address the presenting ailments of patients.

“After years of careful observation and treatment of service members diagnosed with mild TBI and post-traumatic stress disorder, our team realized that the model of care must be as unique and individualized as the patients and incorporate an interdisciplinary methodology,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Christine Brady, director of the intrepid spirit center at Fort Belvoir. “Hence, the Intrepid Spirit University Model was born in March 2015. This patient care model resembles traditional universities where students take a series of classes, learn new skills through therapeutic interventions with our providers, and work toward completing a “degree.” It destigmatizes health care for patients with mild TBI and PTSD, as they are now considered students, not patients. This model of care reduces variation in the overall process while creating individualized patient care.”

Previously five domains, or pillars, comprised the student’s curriculum (i.e., treatment plan) in the University Model. These five pillars were sleep, nutrition, pain management, physical movement, and resiliency. A sixth pillar of connectedness was added in September 2023 to address the increasing awareness of the loneliness epidemic, one of U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy's priorities.

Several times a year, the center at Fort Belvoir hosts a Creative Arts Café as a forum for students to present their musical and/or artistic work to providers and peers. The Family First program, highlighting the family connection as part of a student’s education/treatment, provides an opportunity for spouses to attend appointments in support of the student and engage as a family in the creative arts.  

“We chose to present this model at AMSUS because we believe it to be an effective way to conceptualize a treatment plan that considers the full biopsychosocial formulation. Lack of connectedness is detrimental to overall health, and we want to be intentional in addressing it with our patients,” added Brady.

The intrepid spirit center at Fort Belvoir plans to conduct future research to evaluate the impact of social connectedness on patient outcomes and quality-of-life.

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Last Updated: February 16, 2024
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