Grand Valley, Mary Free Bed announce Wounded Warriors project

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Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans with traumatic brain injuries can receive free, comprehensive rehabilitation in Grand Rapids through a program funded by the Department of Defense.

Officials from Grand Valley State University and Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital discussed details of the Wounded Warriors Traumatic Brain Injury Project (WWTBIP) at a news conference November 9 at the hospital. They were joined by U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers, who was key to securing the $1.279 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense that will fund the project.

Ehlers, who will retire after serving Michigan for 17 years in Washington, said he was pleased that he could get funding for the project. "It's really the least we can do for our soldiers," he said.

The WWTBIP offers opportunities for standard physical and psychological care, and community support to veterans who sustained traumatic brain injuries while they were deployed in either Afghanistan or Iraq. Jean Nagelkerk, principal investigator and vice provost for health at Grand Valley, said the idea behind this project came from area families with loved ones who received a traumatic brain injury. "We are so excited to be able to provide care and rehabilitation services to wounded warriors and help reintegrate them into society to lead productive lives," Nagelkerk said.

Grand Valley faculty members from the Kirkhof College of Nursing and College of Health Professions will help develop the educational program to enhance the knowledge base of Mary Free Bed staff members who will be directly involved with the veterans.

Dr. Jacobus Donders, co-investigator and chief psychologist at Mary Free Bed, said the services through WWTBIP will not duplicate those veterans already receive through veterans hospitals or clinics, but the WWTBIP project will deliver enhanced services such as driver rehabilitation, on-site job evaluation and coaching, and group and family support.

Grand Valley President Thomas J. Haas said announcing the program so close to Veterans Day was appropriate; he also called the men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan “the next greatest generation.” Those service members include Haas’ two sons and daughter.

The program is open for enrollment. For more information about the WWTBIP, call (888) 736-0208 or visit www.maryfreebed.com/woundedwarriors.