Campaign Fosters Communication Between Family Members, Providers

Story Number: NNS100424-12Release Date: 4/24/2010 5:31:00 PM
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By Sarah Fortney, National Naval Medical Center Public Affairs

BETHESDA, Md. (NNS) -- More than 31,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen have suffered injuries in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

Not only do these wounds take a significant toll on the injured service member, combat trauma can also leave a lasting impact on their loved ones, particularly children.

The Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress (CSTS), a program of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, recently initiated a hospital-based campaign, "Courage to Care, Courage to Talk," in an effort to foster communication surrounding war injuries amongst families and health care professionals.

The campaign is designed to provide resources for both families and health care providers and raise awareness about the affects of combat trauma on all family members, according to Stephen Cozza, associate director for CSTS's Child and Family Program.

"These injuries are incredibly disruptive on families," said Cozza.

Cozza, former chief of psychiatry at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, has seen numerous families suffer from war injuries and has been involved in a number of research studies on the impact of combat trauma. He has found that treatment is at its best when it's family-focused, allowing loved ones to participate.

"[Family members] are an important part of recovery and need to be engaged as partners in care," said Cozza. "Their concerns need to be identified and addressed."

"Courage to Care" will help families find resources amidst the distress and disorganization often caused by trauma, said Cozza. Family members can turn to the campaign's Web site,, which launched April 1, on which they will find information on how to support an injured loved one and what questions to ask health care providers.

Parents often become preoccupied with a combat injury - thinking about where to stay while their loved one is in treatment or whether to transfer their kids to a new school, said Cozza. Meanwhile, health care providers are relying on them to talk to their kids about what's going on. The Web site offers parents tips on how to talk to children about trauma, reminding parents to be strong for their kids and to be aware of their needs.

In addition, the Web site provides resources for health care providers to help them better understand what family members are experiencing and how to enhance communication with them. Through the site, providers can also order free promotional campaign materials, including educational posters and brochures that they can use in hospital waiting rooms or reception areas.

"It's really wonderful that the material is coming from an academic, knowledge-based community," said Nancy Vineburgh, director of CSTS's Office of Public Education and Preparedness Center. "It's a wonderful thing."

Vineburgh added that the campaign is unique in that it addresses both combat trauma's affect on the family and brings together resources for families and providers.

She added that the campaign's kickoff ties in with April being Month of the Military Child, a tribute to the children who stand by our nation's military members.

Cozza said CSTS is now looking to engage partners in the campaign, including Veterans Affairs facilities across the country, and making it available across the board.

"We really hope this is useful to people, useful to families and useful to health care professionals," he said. "There's nothing more we like to see than professionals recognizing family needs."

At the National Naval Medical Center, several health care providers have already begun to show their support for this campaign including Sara Barrett, a health educator for the hospital's Psychological Health/Traumatic Brain Injury Unit.

Barrett, who recently ordered campaign materials to use at the hospital, said the way in which family members, particularly children, hear about an injury can affect their understanding and ability to deal with changes and feelings of uncertainty.

"The 'Courage to Care, Courage to Talk' campaign will provide much-needed guidance to service members, their families and health care providers on how to talk about injuries," Barrett said. "Knowing what to say and how to say it will be incredibly helpful to so many people."

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