Center spells hope for wounded veterans

February 01, 2007 |

The 65,000-sf Center for the Intrepid, at Brooke Army Medical Center near San Antonio, was recently handed over to the U.S. Army in a gala ceremony attended by 3,000 onlookers and featured speeches from two presidential candidates: Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). Both senators are among the more than 600,000 people who donated a total of $50 million to completely fund the center's construction.

The state-of-the-art rehabilitation facility is capable of treating 300 to 400 wounded veterans a year as they face long and grueling periods of rehabilitation for burns, amputations, and other serious traumas.

While McCain, Clinton, and several other military and civilian dignitaries were on hand, the real stars of the day were the wounded veterans who will be the first to use the Center for the Intrepid. The GIs crossed a red carpet outside the facility, some in wheelchairs, others making their way on crutches. They took their seats to a standing ovation. So far, 839 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have lost limbs. The Army did not release figures for burn victims. Nine out of 10 amputees were hurt in Iraq—often victims of bombs that leave burns, neurological damage, and hearing loss.

The center was designed to support continued innovation and technological advances in military medicine, as well as to serve as a prototype for similar future military and civilian rehabilitation centers. The center's main departments include a military performance lab, occupational therapy area, physical therapy area, in-house prosthetics production lab, a case management center, and a center for behavioral medicine.

“Much of the technology is really beyond state-of-the-art,” and unique in the World, says Philip Tobey, FAIA, SVP of SmithGroup and principal-in-charge on the Intrepid project. Skanska USA Building of Parsippany, N.J., was the construction manager, Syska Hennessy Group of San Diego provided MEP engineering services, and Cagley & Associates of Rockville, Md., was the structural engineer.

A Gait Lab fitted with 24 cameras on an automated truss uses infrared light to analyze a soldier's personal motion to create an individualized rehabilitation program. A computer-assisted rehabilitation environment (CAREN) is housed in a 21-foot simulated dome with a 300-degree screen that immerses patients in a virtual world where they learn to use prosthetics via sensors and high-speed infrared cameras; a moving platform reacts to patients' movements.

Tobey, an editorial advisor to this publication, says the construction process, headed by the nonprofit Intrepid Fallen Heroes fund, was also different than the average government project.

“We actually went through, in many ways, parallel processes of building a cost model and value-engineering the structure similar to a government project,” he says. “But one of the constraints we did not have was money. With the Fisher Foundation as the lynchpin of the fundraising, they continued to come up with ideas they felt were important and wanted to see in the building, and they would then find more money to increase the budget for those extra items. They realized there were things that the Army wanted and needed that were just not in the budget.”

One of those is a Flowrider system in the facility's natatorium that uses waves to help users re-learn balance, strength, and agility through the common movements of surfing.

Over the course of the facility's 16 months of construction, the plan expanded from a $40 million, 50,000-sf facility to the bigger structure that exists today. The construction also included two Fisher House projects on the site, named after New York real estate developer Arnold Fisher, the honorary chairman of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and his son, Ken Fisher, chairman of the Fisher House Foundation. The Fisher House homes each have 21 rooms and are used to house the families of wounded troops.

Many politicians and journalists, including former Clinton administration official Paul Begala, have criticized the Bush Administration for funding the war effort but not the design and construction of the Intrepid Center. Arnold Fisher took exception to that.

Asked Arnold Fisher: “Why would we want our government to do that which we could do ourselves in half the time, at the half the cost, and twice the quality?”

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