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Veteran leads new program at Froedtert, MCW to help veterans, first responders

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Posted at 12:15 PM, Nov 13, 2023

A new program in Wisconsin focuses on helping veterans and first responders cope with invisible wounds including post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and other mental health challenges.

Compared to civilians, veterans are 15 times more likely to have PTSD according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Dr. Greg Burek, a psychiatrist and medical director of the Building Resilience through Action in Veterans and First Responders Program at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin, knows how difficult it is to transition from military service to civilian life.

"I felt the not being understood feeling like you don't belong in the military circle anymore, but you don't belong in the civilian either. So hard to connect," Dr. Burek explained.

Burek served with the United States Marine Corps.

"I was 17 when I enlisted. I left for boot camp a week after my 18th birthday," Burek said.

Over 4.5 years, Burek worked his way up to sergeant and deployed to Iraq in 2003.

The Wisconsin Institute of Neuroscience will host the BRAVE program. The institute is a collaborative including the Froedtert Hospital, Medical College of Wisconsin, Children's Wisconsin, and the VA Medical Center.

This coordinated effort is the first of its kind in the Midwest and is funded by the non-profit Avalon Action Alliance.

"The scale of the problem is enormous. Veterans and first responders are facing a global health crisis when it comes to brain health," said Greg Frey, vice president of operations at Avalon Action Alliance.

"We'll provide multidisciplinary evaluation of veterans, and first responders affected by traumatic brain injury and then provide an intensive treatment program," said the executive director of the BRAVE program Dr. Michael McCrea.

"This program is intended simply to restore these individuals back to the best form of themselves and we're confident we'll do that."

The structure is designed to eliminate barriers to care and streamline the process.

"When the veteran gets out some of these situations where you have to repeat yourself. You have to introduce yourself and tell your story to every new clinician can be triggering and can make you feel like you're back in that spot," Burek said.

Organizers expect to start seeing patients early next year.

"So many of our vets go through physical and mental-emotional injuries and we tend to try and suppress them. Try and stay on mission. This is a way of healing some of those wounds."

If you want to learn more about the BRAVE program reach out to BRAVE@mcw.edu.