Peter Chiarelli stood Monday before an auditorium full of researchers and clinicians and told them that what they were doing would not help the troops that he once led fast enough.
“I’m not saying to end the way you do things,” said Chiarelli, a recently retired four-star general and former vice chief of staff for the Army. “I’m just saying take the next step.”
He spoke at the Kroc Center to the second annual Augusta Research Symposium on Advances in Warrior Care, which brought together people from Georgia Health Sciences University, Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center, Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center and others who are collaborating on research and care for injured troops.
Chiarelli once headed the Department of Defense’s efforts to address two wounds common in recent conflicts: traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, which service members often suffer together.
At Eisenhower, 85 percent of troops with concussions also had pain issues, said Col. Mike Friedman, the deputy commander for clinical services.
That’s why Eisenhower has its Fortitude Center, which combines integrated pain management with access to residential substance abuse treatment and a Neuroscience Rehab Center to address those issues in a systematic way, he said.
In the Army, 60 to 80 percent of those with a brain injury also had PTSD, Chiarelli said. Yet those troops are often discharged without knowing where to get help later, he said.
“Except in places like Augusta, there is no support system to help them,” Chiarelli said.
A bigger problem is that those researching the issues don’t share data in a timely way, in part for proprietary and competitive reasons. It is a problem even within the military, he said.
A 2009 study by Air Force teams evacuating service members with brain injuries found the flights and altitude aggravated those who had been injured within a day or so, Chiarelli said, yet as head of the military’s efforts he didn’t hear about the findings until this year.
“I wonder if the NFL knows about this?” he said.
Worse, he said, the system is set up so that researchers guard their results until they can be published and there is no incentive to collaborate in an era where aggregating information should be easier.
Chiarelli is helping to push the One Mind for Research project, which aims to raise $100 million over three years to fund research into brain issues and mental illness and will share data through its Web portal so others can advance it. Its aim is to go from basic research to viable cures and treatments in 10 years – a task that might take 50 in the conventional government-funded system.
“We hope that our portal proves to folks that you can share data and have success,” Chiarelli said. “That resonates with folks. The idea of helping soldiers resonates with folks.”
It is not just service members that need it – 1.7 million people seek treatment each year for a brain injury, he said.
“When people understand the enormity of the problem, they’re very supportive,” Chiarelli said.