The Brain at War, the leading national conference on the neurocognitive consequences of combat, convened for the fifth year at the Marines’ Memorial Club & Hotel in San Francisco on June 21.
Founded and presented annually by NCIRE – The Veterans Health Research Institute, The Brain at War brings together researchers, clinicians, service members, Veterans, policy makers, writers, and others to discuss current and emerging neurological and psychological health needs facing service members, Veterans, and their families.
Following opening remarks by NCIRE Executive Director Robert E. Obana and NCIRE Board Chair Paul Volberding, MD, the keynote address was given by General (Ret.) Peter Chiarelli, former Vice Chief of Staff of the Army and currently Chief Executive Officer at One Mind for Research, a nonprofit institute devoted to defeating brain disease. As the 32nd Vice Chief of Staff, General Chiarelli was a tireless advocate for eliminating the stigma associated with service members and Veterans getting the help they need for the treatment of the invisible wounds of war. Following General Chiarelli was Air Force Colonel Wanda Salzer, MD, who discussed the latest developments in military traumatic brain injury research.
Colonel Karl Friedl, PhD, Director of the US Army Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC), reviewed the fruits of TATRC’s longstanding support for neuroscience research at SFVAMC and NCIRE, as well as the agency’s overall research portfolio.
Kristine Yaffe, MD, addressed the conference for the first time. Dr. Yaffe, Chief of Geriatric Psychiatry at the San Francisco VA Medical Center (SFVAMC) and Professor of Psychiatry, Neurology, and Epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), reviewed her research on the long-term risks of neurodegenerative disease associated with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress.
Dr. Thomas Neylan, Director of the Stress and Health Research Program at SFVAMC, was joined by SFVAMC mental health researchers Sabra Inslicht, PhD, and Aoife O’Donovan, PhD, in an overview of the unique health issues facing women in active military service and women Veterans.
This year’s featured speaker was Karen Kelly, who spoke movingly of her own experiences as a Gold Star Parent with a husband and two sons in the Marine Corps serving multiple combat rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the afternoon, NCIRE’s community partners were acknowledged in a program focusing on the Veterans Outreach Program at City College of San Francisco and the Veterans Health Integration Program (VHIP), which is supported by musician John Mayer. Speakers included Sophia Vinogradov, MD, Chief of Mental Health at SFVAMC, Keith Armstrong, LCSW, of the SFVAMC Mental Health Service, Jennifer Havey of Mick Artists Management, which works with John Mayer, and Gerard Choucroun, MSW, Director of VHIP at NCIRE.
To cap the afternoon’s proceedings, Ruth Lanius, MD, PhD, of Western Ontario University, discussed psychological trauma from the perspective of the brain. Finally, Michael Weiner, MD, Director of the SFVAMC Center for Imaging of Neurodegenerative Diseases, discussed the progress of the $140 million multinational Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), which he directs, and two research projects that are offshoots of ADNI: Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease in Aging Veterans, which focuses on the increased risks of Alzheimer’s and other dementias experienced by combat Veterans, and the Bay Area Alzheimer’s Prevention Project, designed to promote healthy brain aging in the San Francisco Bay region.
Closing remarks were made by Lieutenant Colonel Steve Countouriotis, US Army (Ret.), a member of the NCIRE Board of Directors.
“This exciting day was a great opportunity to discuss what we are doing and what we still need to do for Veterans over the course of their entire lives, from pre-deployment to healthy old age,” said NCIRE Executive Director Robert E. Obana. “We welcome everyone to next year’s conference with an interest in strengthening the ways in which we serve those who have served.”
The Brain at War