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The Most Powerful Weapon

January 7, 2014 5 minute Read by Colonel Matthew F. Amidon, USMCR

The overall health of our Warriors is a crucial issue as we recognize the sacrifices that so many have made. These sacrifices exist not only in the physical realm, but in the “unseen” forms of PTSD, TBI and comprehensive brain health. As Dr. Sandra Chapman from the Center for BrainHealth so compellingly states, accurate diagnostics and effective treatment help enable optimal performance and successful reintegration in order to achieve fulfilling personal and professional lives.


By Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D.

Since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began in 2002, more than 200,000 U.S. service members have suffered traumatic brain injuries, about a quarter of them moderate or severe.  Estimates also suggest that 18-30 percent of veterans who have served post-9/11 have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Even more alarming is the fact that according to a recent Department of Veteran Affairs study, 22 veterans commit suicide every day.

The men and women in our Nation’s military are trained to do nearly anything from operating a multimillion dollar fighter jet or submarine to surviving in the wilderness for days without food. They are trained to defy their instincts and run toward the sound of gunfire and perform under fire and threat of death. They are trained to execute these skills under pressure and in any type of environment.

But executing that training, in wartime or in peace, takes a toll on their most powerful weapon -- their brain. And although many efforts are dedicated to repairing the physical wounds of war, very few address the invisible injuries of the mind with meaningful, long-term life change.

Researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas have developed and continue to test a high-performance brain training program called Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training (SMART). This program is designed to equip service members with an essential toolkit to become strategic learners, deeper-level thinkers and innovation generators. Since 2005, scientists have been using the cognitive brain training protocol to benefit civilian and returning veterans who have suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Additionally, our research team has been testing repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) and its effectiveness when combined with cognitive processing therapy to provide a new way to handle distressing thoughts associated with PTSD that disrupt post-combat everyday life. Warriors with PTSD report difficulty sleeping, overly emotional responses to events, avoiding situations, and feeling numb or detached from other people and present experiences.

Our multidimensional research is helping lead in the discovery and delivery of effective training programs to mitigate symptoms of traumatic brain injury and PTSD and assist returning service members reach their potential. In fact, the outcomes are offering new promise of brain and cognitive regeneration.

Pictures of participants’ brains taken before and after training actually show increased blood flow to the frontal lobes, the part of the brain responsible for reasoning, planning, decision-making and judgment. Scientific findings also show up to a 50 percent improvement in mood following training.

We also see measurable real-life improvements. The veterans we have worked with report feeling empowered, confident and armed with the tools needed to achieve successful, enriching, and fulfilling personal and professional lives.

By removing barriers and building bridges to achieve optimal brain performance, we are proud to help America’s brave fighting men and women, both in and out of uniform, successfully reintegrate into civilian life and enjoy the quality of life they so courageously defend. We look forward to delivering our scientifically proven programs to a wider veteran population to have exponential impact through our new Brain Performance Institute.

The brain health of our service members is just as important as their physical health. With this in mind, let’s recognize and show gratitude for the sacrifices they make – and make sure that brain health is not one of those sacrifices.


Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D. is Founder and Chief Director of the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas, Dee Wyly Distinguished University Chair and author of Make Your Brain Smarter. A renowned cognitive neuroscience expert, Dr. Chapman is committed to promoting brain health fitness, developing futuristic thinkers, and helping individuals, young or old, think smarter. 


Author

Colonel Matthew F. Amidon, USMCR
Colonel Matthew F. Amidon, USMCR

Colonel Matthew F. Amidon, USMCR, is the Director of the Military Service Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute. Colonel Amidon leads the day to day efforts of the Military Service Initiative and the team leading our policy and programmatic work on veteran transition.  

Colonel Amidon has served in both active duty and reserve capacities since 1994. As an AV-8B Harrier pilot, he deployed in support of both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, at the operational and staff level. 

In his current reserve capacity he serves as the Deputy Group Commander, Marine Aircraft Group 41, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, Joint Reserve Base Forth Worth, TX.

Colonel Amidon is originally from Stowe, Vermont and is a graduate of The University of Vermont. He earned his MBA at Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business in 2009. In 2012, he attended The Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy where he earned a Master of Science.  Colonel Amidon is married with three children.

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