Military Brain Injury Rehab Program

Program Returns More Than 70% of Patients to Full-Time, Active Duty Status in First Year

A brain injury rehabilitation program for active-duty military personnel – many of whom sustained their injuries in Iraq from improvised explosive devices, or IEDs – has proved to be a successful treatment model as it turns one year old this summer.

Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton have teamed to develop an outpatient day treatment program that meets the recovery needs of combat-injured military patients with closed brain injuries. The program is geared toward helping troops rehabilitate so they can achieve their individual goals, whether it’s returning to full-time, active-duty status, or assimilating to the private sector.

Of the 31 patients who have completed the program to date, 22 have returned to full-time duty. Other patients who have completed the program are pursuing an education or career outside of the military. Housed on the campus of Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas, the program continues to accept new military patients.

The partnership is believed to be the nation’s only “full-service” outsourced program between the military and a private health care provider that treats closed-brain injuries of active-duty military patients on an outpatient basis. Patients in the Scripps program have access to a wide range of specialists not readily available at other programs, including physical therapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, recreational therapists, neurologists, psychiatrists and other specialists.

“Blast-related brain injuries have become the signature injury of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Michael Lobatz, M.D., chief of staff at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas. “This program is an example of how community hospitals can help fill the gaps by providing specialized care where the military may not have the capacity or particular expertise.”

The Scripps program includes specialized activities such as military-style calisthenics, martial arts, boxing, jogging, memory exercises with military terminology and video games. While details vary, patients generally will attend therapy for six hours a day, three to four days a week, for three months or longer. U.S. troops are initially screened by the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center upon their return from combat overseas and are authorized for treatment by their military physician.

Lance Cpl. Wilson Otero of Camp Pendleton entered the Scripps program after suffering a traumatic brain injury from a roadside bomb explosion while he provided security for convoys in Iraq. As a result of his injury, he has experienced migraine headaches, sleep disturbances and partial loss of feeling in his extremities.

After months of intensive occupational, physical and speech therapy sessions, Otero says he’s noticed progress. “The pain is getting under control,” said Otero, who is making plans for life outside the military. “I’m planning to get out and use my brain to go to school.”

The new combat-related brain injury treatment program is part of an existing contract between Scripps and TriWest Healthcare Alliance, which administers the military’s health care plan in the 21 western states. This existing contract, in place for the past decade, calls for Scripps to provide health care services that military hospitals either do not offer, or to provide “overflow” care when military hospitals are at capacity.

Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas has a long-established rehabilitation department, which is accredited by CARF (Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities), considered the “gold standard” in rehabilitation services.

Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas is North County’s first certified primary stroke center offering a full range of clinical and surgical services, including 24-hour emergency services; intensive care; cancer/oncology; orthopedics; neurology; urology; ophthalmology; a Level II neonatal nursery; award-winning OB/GYN and maternal and baby health services; and an ambulatory surgery center. With 138 beds, more than 1,000 employees and 550 affiliated physicians, Scripps Encinitas is part of the Scripps Health system serving the growing communities of San Diego’s coastal North County.