Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Gears Up To Serve Wounded Warriors
January 29, 2008
For the past month, the new chief of the Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury has been bouncing across the Capital Beltway and areas beyond, in an effort to increase the quality of care for Wounded Warriors and their families. Army Col. Loree Sutton isn’t new to the military healthcare system, having Sutton deployed to combat in the Gulf War as a division psychiatrist with 1st Armored Division and later served as division surgeon for 4th Infantry Division. Sutton commanded DeWitt Army Community Hospital, at Fort Belvoir, Va., and most recently commanded the U.S. Army Medical Department Activity, at Fort Hood, Texas. She’s passionate about her job and is working non-stop to create a network of providers that can partner with the military to ensure that Wounded Warriors receive the best phychological care and treatment for TBI.
(Army Col. (Dr.) Loree Sutton, chief of the newly created Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, sits in her temporary Rosslyn, Va., office suite. The Defense Department created the center in its effort to step up the quality of care for wounded warriors and their families. Photo by Fred W. Baker III)
â€œI drink bad coffee all over this town and all over this country â€¦ to make sure that I am reaching out. Iâ€™m linking up with folks. Iâ€™m talking with them. Iâ€™m letting them know what weâ€™re about, finding out how we can partner,â€ Sutton said in an interview from her temporary Rosslyn, Va., office suite.
â€œNo two days are the same, thatâ€™s for sure,â€ she said.
The Defense Department created the center in it’s continued effort to improve the quality of care for wounded warriors. The center officially opened on November 30th and is still in the process of hiring staff and leaders. Currently the center is housed in temporary offices, a short distance from the Pentagon. The temporary offices doesn’t stop Col. Sutton from being vocal about the mission on the center with a passion that borders on evangelical. The goal is to ensure that the center is what is planned to be a worldwide web of clinicians, researchers, educators and leaders, from the military system, private practice and academia. The hopes are that the center becomes the leading international resource for all psychological health and brain injury education, training, research, treatment and prevention. Having met Col. Sutton when she served at Fort Hood, I can say without a doubt that she’s the right person for the job and will give her position 150%. That’s just her way.
On any day, Col. Sutton can be found rushing to attend meetings, and make presentations and networks at the Pentagon, Walter Reed Army Medical Center here, the National Naval Medical Center or Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., and similar places around the country. This year, she said, she plans to expand her trips to outside of the United States, with the goal of making the Center into the premier facility, the expert on psychological health and traumatic brain injuries. With her drive, Col. Sutton will no doubt achieve that goal.
â€œRight now thatâ€™s our task, to build the team and grow the function of the office,â€ she said. â€œFor us to fully reach our potential, weâ€™ve got to be connected to that national and international network of experts who can bring the best to bear for our troops and family members.â€
20 years ago, the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. It currently serves as the foundation for the center. It has also served as the Defense Departments main hub for traumatic brain injury experts. The Defense Department’s Center for Deployment Psychology was began in 2006 and is currently housed at the Uniformed Serivces University of Health Sciences. They’ll be bringing their training and educational functions to the center as well.
The plans are that this summer the staffs of both Departments will merge into new office space located in Silver Spring, Maryland. Plans are in the works to construct a new building adjacent to the future site of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda in October 2009. That will enable the Center to manage the clinical treatment for Traumatic Brain Injuries as well.
The position that Col. Sutton holds as the chief of the Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury is created for a 1 star General. Currently Col. Sutton has been nominated for promition and she’s awaiting Senate confirmation. Sutton reports directly to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. S. Ward Casscells, who also directs Tricare Management Activity.
The idea for the Center came as a result of the military and health care commissions that were tasked with looking for solutions to military and veteran’s health care issues after the Walter Reed Scandal. One of the themes that continued to repeat itself, as the task forces talked with leaders, wounded warriors and family members, was that the department should bring together best practices in treatment, research, education and training.
For now, the center will not directly manage health care, policy or enforcement. Sutton said it will work with policy-making offices, and the best practices it collects from agencies worldwide will be incorporated into policy.
The center also will set standards and assess, survey and validate DoD programs, and decide, in part, how resources are directed, Sutton said.
Center officials are reviewing hundreds of research project proposals that hope to claim a piece of the $300 million set aside by Congress last year for brain injury research. The office also will work with the military services to see which of the many programs funded with another $600 million from Congress are working and how to direct those funds to programs most beneficial to servicemembers and families, Sutton said.
But Sutton emphasized that the officeâ€™s efforts donâ€™t center on command and control of programs and funds, but rather more on forming a network of partnerships and working together to agree on best practices for treatment.
“It’s a team of teams in a network,” she said.
“None of us have all the answers, but together we will absolutely do the right thing and provide the best possible care for our troops and their families,â€ Sutton said.
Plans are that the center will move beyond the medical model of practice to reach out to family members and partner with community programs along with education and training. In one of it’s first initiatives, the Center will work with other agencies and departments, such as such as the departments of Veterans Affairs, Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services on a program to help reintegrate servicemembers and their families into the community after a deployment.
â€œFor us to make sure that this center of excellence lives fully up to its potential, weâ€™ve got to reach out way beyond services, way beyond the Department of Defense â€¦ (and) reach out to the civilian world, both in this country and abroad. And weâ€™re doing that,â€ she said.
With the drive and determination of Col. (Dr) Loree Sutton, I foresee great things coming out of the Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. Col. Sutton is a determined and dedicated practitioner. She’s a great choice for the position and do everything in her power to ensure that our Wounded Warriors will receive the best care possible. As much as we hated to see her leave Fort Hood, we were also well aware that her expertise will enable her to provide even more for Soldiers in need.