Thank you, Mr. Edelman, for that introduction.
General Cartwright, Secretary Donley, Admiral Roughead, General Amos, General Chiarelli, Secretary Duckworth, Secretary Petzel, members of Congress, distinguished guests, especially men and women of our armed services, it is a pleasure to be with you on this important occasion.
I would like to convey Secretary Gates’ sincere apologies for being unable to attend and speak as scheduled, in light of recent events. No one is more supportive of the mission of this Center than Secretary Gates. He regrets greatly his inability to be here to celebrate the opening of this Center.
All of us in this Department want to acknowledge the inspiring generosity of donors to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, in particular Mr. Santulli, Mr. Arnold Fisher, and the rest of the Fisher family.
Not only has the Intrepid Fund and the Fisher family provided decades of direct assistance to our military families. They have consistently gone a step further to identify and then address emerging needs.
Given the challenges many of our troops are facing from traumatic brain injuries and the psychological stresses of combat, it is no surprise that the Fund has again risen to the occasion by establishing this center.
The Intrepid Center will serve as a hub where service members can receive more in-depth help than is available at their post.
The Center has the resources to give these cases the time and attention they deserve. It will develop individualized treatment plans with a team of experts. And it will share the knowledge they gain with military treatment facilities, VA medical centers, and civilian academic programs across the country.
This will constantly improve our ability to treat these injuries and to lesson their impact.
I particularly admire the Center’s emphasis on working directly with patients’ families to develop long-term treatment plans and coping strategies.
We’ve long known at the Defense Department that when you enlist a serviceperson, you effectively enlist a family.
Similarly, the sacrifices made by our troops are shared by our military families.
The Center’s Fisher house, where families can stay while supporting their loved ones in treatment, is an important recognition of this fact.
The need for such an institution could not be more pressing as our military approaches its tenth year at war.
In the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns, we can be thankful that advances in protective equipment and battlefield medicine allow more of our warfighters to come home to their families and a grateful nation.
This also means more troops are surviving who would not have done so in past conflicts – brave men and women who will need care long after the conflicts are over.
The unique demands of our post 9/11 campaigns – including repeated deployments, an uncertain battlefield, and an enemy that disdains the laws of war – also mean that more of our warriors return with invisible wounds.
Some of our field studies show that more than ten percent of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered at least one concussion or related injury.
Roughly twelve percent of service members in Iraq exhibit significant signs of combat stress, depression, or other mental health problems.
Upon their homecoming, those suffering from traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, and other psychological injuries face a battle for recovery that can be as arduous as their time deployed.
We as a department have come a long way in recognizing this reality, and in recognizing that our obligations to our heroes do not end when they return from the field.
But there are still servicemen and women who are not receiving the help they need and have earned.
We must do better.
Historically, there has been a stigma attached to unseen war wounds—a lack of understanding that they, too, are an inevitable consequence of combat. Those fighting to recover from these injuries deserve every bit as much respect for their sacrifice as any wounded service member.
No one understands this better than the team here at the Defense Centers for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. I want to recognize their collaborative role in the Intrepid Center.
In the area of TBI, their work includes developing examination protocols to detect mild cases early, when treatment is most effective.
All troops returning from deployment now answer questions designed to screen for TBI as a routine part of their post-deployment health exam. We are currently conducting several studies to further improve our TBI assessment tools.
With the team’s help, we are refining our guidelines for the treatment of mild TBI in theater.
Other NATO countries are now using these guidelines as a model for the treatment of their own troops.
The team here has also helped improve the proficiency of our medical providers by giving them access to regional educational coordinators and promoting other professional development opportunities.
In the area of psychological health, this department continues to improve our handling of PTSD and other stress disorders.
The steps we have taken include appointing a State Director of Psychological Health in all 50 states to coordinate services for National Guard members and their families.
These directors will help ensure that psychological care is consistent across all posts and that everyone is aware of all available services.
We have added more than 2,000 mental health providers to military treatment facilities
And we are changing policy so that service members with the courage to seek treatment for combat related psychological issues are not penalized when they seek or renew their security clearance.
These improvements aside, we’ve all heard the stories and seen the reports that highlight just how far we still have to go to provide consistent, state-of-the-art care to all who need it.
For example, the department still faces shortages of mental health experts, especially in rural areas. So we are aggressively investing resources to adequately staff all areas of the country.
In FY 2010, this department funded nearly $500 million for programs in psychological health, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury at major academic centers across the country.
More broadly, we must ensure that the culture within the service supports and respects our wounded.
We continue to emphasize to our troops that their careers are not at risk when they get the help they need.
Today, I would like to honor all of those heroes who have come forward, though the Real Warriors Campaign and elsewhere, to tell their stories.
Heroes like Josh Hopper. Let me tell you a little of his story because it is an example of where we need to go.
As a Marine Sergeant, Josh suffered traumatic brain injury from an IED blast in Iraq. Upon returning home, he struggled with PTSD and other issues.
Josh had the courage not only to get the help he needed, but also to spend time talking to others about the need to seek treatment.
Josh has since been promoted to Staff Sergeant, completed Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command training, and redeployed to Afghanistan.
Through his advocacy, Josh and others like him have given hope to many of their comrades.
Through this center, we now have a place that will deliver the care our wounded warriors deserve, at a standard we can all be proud of.
Constructed entirely with donated funds, this center is a living embodiment of the gratitude of the American people.
Our presence here today sends a tangible message to the men and women in uniform—a message that we will support and honor them for their service.
On behalf of Secretary Gates and the entire Department, I salute all those who have contributed to this remarkable effort.