The Vision of the Integra Center

For the wounded warrior coping with an amputation or struggling through a traumatic brain injury, life can be one challenge on top of the other. And the challenges faced by combat-injured service members and veterans aren't just physical. How difficult is it for a triple amputee to get to multiple doctor appointments? How daunting is it for a young man suffering a traumatic brain injury to find a job or go to college? What is it like to be a young man with a wife and children who is trying to walk on prosthetic limbs for the first time? A group of local business leaders, military veterans and health care professionals have a vision: Integra Center, a facility under one roof in San Diego where wounded warriors with traumatic brain injuries and amputations can receive everything they need, a one-stop shop of sorts for health care and rehabilitation; job training and career counseling; education; and family support. "We are creating the best foundation for the future for those who have gone through these injuries," says MaryAnn F. Stewart, president of the startup nonprofit Integra Center. "Iraq and Afghanistan have the lowest killed-in-action rates of any wars. This is good news, but this also means service members are being saved with very complex injuries." Stewart says we are in new territory: 21st-century combat injuries - like triple amputations - are treated more effectively because of today's advancements in armor, military training and battlefield medicine. When injured warriors return stateside, statistics show the vast majority will never return to active duty. These young veterans will live another 50 to 60 years, and their amputations and traumatic brain injuries will require lifelong medical care and rehabilitation; patients need to learn how to use prosthetics and, in some cases, adjust to short-term memory loss. Integra Center aims to develop and deliver innovative rehabilitation technologies to help amputees adapt to prosthetic limbs. An onsite driving simulator would help wounded warriors re-acclimate to the road and conquer any anxiety caused by overpasses and other places they feared in combat. "Integra Center will begin with that long, important post-acute health care," Stewart says. "But it will be a new model of care moving forward where health care is the foundation and we wrap around that job skills; education; family counseling; and intensive case management." Retired Rear Adm. James A. Johnson Jr., M.D., serves as an Integra Center board member. He is the former commander of Navy Medicine West and immediate past president of the San Diego Military Advisory Council. He says San Diego, as home to the country's largest growing Iraq and Afghanistan veteran population, is uniquely situated to lead the nation in giving wounded warriors the comprehensive care they deserve. More than 28,000 veterans of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom live in San Diego, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. "This community takes pride in its military residents and strives to repay their service to the country," Johnson says. "I am a military physician who has devoted his career to the care of service members. I know that we have the capabilities to serve our wounded heroes and their loved ones more effectively." Visionaries behind Integra Center want to honor the service of the spouse, family member or friend taking care of wounded warriors here at home. The facility would offer drop-in child care and an opportunity for a patient to be dropped off in the morning, receive multiple services and picked up that evening - a way to ease stress of caregivers. Integra Center's leadership team is in talks with the Department of Defense, the Veterans Administration in San Diego, and local realtors and architects to fine-tune logistics of the project, Stewart says. The center will be located in a renovated 50,000-square-foot space in North County, accessible to veterans throughout San Diego and as far north as Temecula. "The intent is for the center to be accessible to individuals, especially for prosthetic care, which is very critical as the years go by," Stewart says. Stewart stresses that as 10 years of war winds down, the needs of our wounded warriors and the families who support them remain and will remain indefinitely.

Integra Center will provide care for wounded warriors and their families.

• Integra Center is a nonprofit organization with a mission to build a comprehensive program - in San Diego in a single facility - to deliver integrated services to wounded warriors and their families.

• Integra Center is the vision of a group of regional health care, military support and business leaders. The facility will serve as a new model of care for wounded warriors with amputations and traumatic brain injuries, providing health care and rehabilitation; education; job training and career counseling; and family support.

For more information on Integra Center, to volunteer or donate, go to integracenter.org.