“How far can we take the ability of our brains if we actually focused on training it like we do our bodies?”

-Morgan Luttrell, Navy SEAL

The finest police officers I have known in the past 30 years have been those with combat experience. They have a level of understanding that cannot be obtained anywhere but the battlefield. Except many warriors have scars upon return—seen and unseen.

One tragic example is Eddie Routh, the man accused of fatally shooting Navy SEAL sniper, Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield at a North Texas gun range in February 2013. Routh is facing murder charges after police said the troubled war veteran shot and killed Kyle, the most lethal sniper in U.S. history and author of the best seller American Sniper. Kyle had befriended Routh and was trying to help him cope with the emotional scars acquired after seeing combat [1].

The Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) is phasing out the term disorder when referring to Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a medical condition that requires treatment, and their practical research is pursuing those goals.

Since many warriors enter law enforcement, and our profession is fertile soil for PTS, I believe another perspective is helpful.

Angus McColl, USN, retired, Submarine Warfare Officer, Nuclear Propulsion Engineer, and currently the Assistant Vice President, Corporate Relations at UTD has given me an education. I garnered the information from McColl and taken excerpts from the Brain Performance Institute’s White Paper report on the topic [2].

PTS symptoms can include depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse, suicidal behavior, anger and irritability, difficulty concentrating, difficulty making decisions, confusion, slower processing, and feelings of hopelessness, headaches, social withdrawal and isolation.

Those who struggle with reintegration do so because:

  • Traumatic brain injuries are not effectively diagnosed at the time of injury.
  • Many injured veterans are not receiving treatment for undiagnosed conditions.
  • Most treatments occur right after injury, and do not address long-term recovery.
  • Strategic thinking skills developed in military service are not being re-purposed for civilian success in the workplace, higher education or at home.
  • Proven trainings to rewire and strengthen the brain are not being delivered.
  • Tools to reintegrate effectively are inadequate.

The Brain Performance Institute’s high performance brain training program, known as Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training (SMART), is based on more than 30 years of cognitive research by neuroscientists at the Center for Brain Health at UTD. The training program has been scientifically proven to spur dramatic improvements in everyday life for veterans with TBI. After mere hours of training, the program will teach participants how to:

  • Increase productivity
  • Achieve higher levels of work efficiency
  • Be aware of habits that may drain the brain
  • Focus and stay on task
  • Increase flexibility in thinking
  • Enhance decision making

In addition, the Center for Brain Health is in the midst of an ongoing non-pharmaco­logical treatment study for PTS. The study utilizes an emerging non-invasive neurological treatment called repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) to reduce the hyper-emotional fear response that occurs with re-experiencing traumatic memories, such as battlefield experiences.

Thus far, 293 individuals have contacted the Center about the study, 227 were screened, and 84 have joined. The preliminary data shows that research participants had a significant reduction in the standard Clinician Administered PTS Scale (CAPS) score one month post-treatment, and an even lower CAPS score six months post-treatment [3]. Furthermore, since rTMS devices are already FDA cleared to treat depression, they evaluated participants’ depression symptoms, and found a significant reduction. Thus, scientists are obtaining a new “dual” treatment effect for both PTS and depression symptoms in these patients.

Go to http://www.brainhealth.utdallas.edu/research/participate/ if you seek more information about participating in the study.

Completed research published in the scientific journal Cerebral Cortex has al­ready proven the efficiency of the high performance brain-training program [4]. Based on this research, they launched clinical application in mid-2013 through the Brain Performance Institute and have already provided assessments and/or train­ing to over 100 warriors.

Previous research includes measurement of seven scales of functionality covering daily life activities to include finances, social life, organizational skills, home life, and job retention. After high performance brain training, warriors improved functional skills by 20%. Warrior participants report mood improvement of 50%. Evidence of gains in real-life functionality measures have been maintained and even improved at six months post-training. Thus, they fully anticipate the benefits of training will lead to increased brain resilience, durable and long-lasting cognitive gains and improved life skills.

Their mission is to deliver the program to as many veterans as possible. The training is suitable for warriors with or without a diagnosis of TBI. However, they are keenly aware that in the battlefield, brain injuries without prolonged loss of consciousness are frequently missed. Therefore, they will not limit access to the program only to those with a medical diagnosis. In addition, they have demonstrated that the high performance brain training is most effective for those who are beyond the acute phase of brain injury (i.e. at least three months post-injury). This is important to note, because they can help warriors who are struggling even years after the injury. Their services will be available to men and women at any stage in the military; however, given the large numbers of veterans returning to civilian life, their immediate focus is on them.

IN ORDER TO HELP OUR NATION’S VETERANS, THE BRAIN PERFORMANCE INSTITUTE WILL DEPLOY TEAMS OF SKILLED TRAINERS TO MOBILE LOCATIONS ACROSS THE NATION TO:

  • Administer confidential and informative brain performance assessments that measure strategic attention, integrated reasoning and innovation, key areas critical to optimal brain performance.
  • Provide 10-12 hours of high performance brain training over the course of one week with short intensive sessions (2-3 hours) and personalized training materials.
  • Deliver integrated practice sessions for participants.
  • Develop individualized brain health plans to ensure adoption of high performance brain training strategies.
  • Monitor participants’ progress.
  • Measure real-life benefits.
  • Provide booster sessions to maintain brain change.

Pre- and post-training brain performance assessments and documentation of real-life change will be conducted to measure the improvement of brain function, cognitive operations and their generalization to daily life. Improvements in these measures represent the value of the training.

Our veterans are treasures whose talents should not be spent and then discarded after war, but nurtured and cultivated to leverage their innate leadership and skills needed by this great nation.

As a third-generation Marine, Jake Schick would not hesitate to return to combat in defense of his country. But he’s paid dearly for his service. “I was on our 28th or 29th mission when I got hit. I had a bad feeling before we even left; I called my family and told them I loved them.” That day, a triple-stack tank mine blew up directly beneath his vehicle, blowing him out of the Hummer and nearly killing him. He lost a leg, part of his hand and was riddled with shrapnel.

Jake left the Marines in 2006, but after so much time in the hospital, his transition into civilian life became a blur. “I literally felt like an alien in my own country,” he says. When Jake was given the opportunity to participate in SMART, he was skeptical. However, once he made the decision to engage, he found the training to be one of the most enjoyable and enlightening experiences of his life. “I was having fun, using my brain. It was tactical therapy—swift and silent. Out of all the medicines I took, all the people I talked to—SMART was better than all of those. You don’t have to be closed off, feeling on edge all the time. You don’t have to be a statistic.” “I have noticed in my fairly short lifetime that you can achieve anything if your heart is in it,” says Jake. “Everything happens for a reason and I’m certain of that. I truly believe there is a powerful reason God didn’t take me home on that fateful day in September 2004. Because of this heart of a champion that God gave me, I know I’m capable of achieving great things and changing lives in this world.”

Jake’s account is one of several inspiring stories as a result of SMART.

For more details go to:

http://www.brainhealth.utdallas.edu/research/research_topic/military_service_members_and_the_brain

http://www.brainhealth.utdallas.edu/research/research_topic/strategic-memory-advanced-reasoning-training-smart

References:

  1. Beil, Laura, Who Killed Chris Kyle, Men’s Health, (December 2013).
  1. Center for Brain Health, the University of Texas at Dallas, White Paper Report, Empowering Warriors (2014).
  1. Hart, J.J., Kozel, A., Chapman, S.B. (2013). Novel treatment of emotional dysfunction in PTSD. (Ongoing study; recruiting participants).
  1. Chapman, S.B., Aslan, S., Spence, J.S., Hart, J.J., Bartz, E.K., Didehbani, N., Keebler, M.W., Gardner, C.M., Strain, J.F., DeFina, L.F., Lu, H. Neural mechanisms of brain plasticity with complex cognitive training in healthy seniors. Cerebral Cortex, Advance online publication. PMID:23985135.

Jim is the author of The Spirit behind Badge 145. He worked in military and civilian law enforcement for thirty-one years. While in the USAF he flew as a crewmember aboard the National Emergency Airborne Command Post—a presidential support detail. Following his military service, he served for twenty-seven years with the Fountain Valley Police Department in Orange County, California where he retired as a lieutenant. During his career in law enforcement, he worked with, supervised, or managed every element of the organization. He holds a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice from Southwest University and graduated from the prestigious Sherman Block Supervisory Leadership Institute as well as the IACP course, Leadership in Police Organizations. Jim is married and has three adult children and three grandchildren. You can contact him at [email protected] or view his website www.jimmcneff.com which is geared toward helping officers.