The Matthew Gfeller Center in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill College of Arts & Sciences will launch a new initiative to make treatment for traumatic brain injuries more accessible for military veterans in and around North Carolina, thanks to a $12.5 million gift. The investment from the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network will enable Carolina to establish a new outreach program dedicated to treating traumatic brain injuries and related health conditions, promoting overall wellness for veterans.
The Transforming Health and Resilience in Veterans, or THRIVE, Program will be a community-based clinical outreach program designed to provide care to veterans who are experiencing the effects of traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress, resulting from a career serving our nation. The THRIVE Program will evaluate, diagnose and treat physical, cognitive and other health conditions in a month-long care program for approximately 140 veterans per year over the next 10 years. The program will provide a referral network and post-program follow-ups for as many as 400 veterans and family members every year when it is fully operational.
After a six-month building and pilot phase, the THRIVE Program is slated to begin full operations in January 2022. Veterans who want to learn more can email [email protected] or apply for care here on the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network website.
Participants in THRIVE will be treated regardless of insurance coverage or ability to pay. Among this veteran patient population, consideration will be given to individuals regardless of discharge status due to traumatic brain injury or psychological health conditions. These populations often have a particularly hard time accessing assistance and treatment.
“The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has an interdisciplinary approach to health care. The THRIVE Program is an important example of our culture of collaboration and how we are addressing the health care needs in North Carolina both in research and clinical operations,” said UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz, who is also a concussion researcher and founding director of the Matthew Gfeller Center. “Carolina’s commitment to service, particularly in supporting our military veterans, is foundational, and we must find new and innovative ways to meet the needs of the people of our state and beyond. We are grateful to the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network for enabling us to do this work through the THRIVE Program.”
Established in 2010, the Matthew Gfeller Center is a leading epicenter for traumatic brain injury research. For more than two decades, Carolina and its Matthew Gfeller Center have demonstrated expertise to fill this gap in clinical service for veterans in and around North Carolina. The THRIVE Program will build on the Center’s work, including research focusing on brain health initiatives and clinical trials in active-duty service members, primarily those in Special Operations Forces. These efforts have recently expanded to include Special Forces and conventional airborne soldiers. Jason Mihalik, co-director of the Matthew Gfeller Center, will serve as the THRIVE Program’s chief executive officer alongside an expert team of clinicians and researchers to develop and extend this new clinical outreach initiative to veterans.
“Our decade-long military research partnership has afforded the Matthew Gfeller Center team a deeper appreciation for the sacrifices made by our nation’s service members and the lasting impact those experiences may have on their long-term neurological and psychological health,” Mihalik said. “We are thankful for this tremendous partnership with the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network to carry out the THRIVE Program’s clinical mission to benefit veterans and their families in an innovative clinical outreach program in the communities we serve.”
Active partnerships with military entities, and now, new collaborations with UNC Physicians Network and UNC Health will allow the Matthew Gfeller Center to ensure veterans have access to the health care professionals and resources needed to successfully transition to civilian life.
Following a pre-visit clinical intake process, veterans will undergo a thorough multidisciplinary wellness examination. Housing will be provided to those who qualify for the program. The team of physicians, neuropsychologists, athletic trainers, physical therapists, social workers and counselors will create and implement an integrated, individualized care plan for each veteran.
Dr. Shawn Kane, the THRIVE Program’s chief medical officer and associate professor in the department of family medicine at Carolina, spent 27 years as a physician in the U.S. Army. “It is important for us to leverage our expertise and health care resources to assist our veterans who may have developed long-term, complex physical and neurological health issues from combat-related exposures in service to our nation,” he said.
The program will provide participants with assistance in successfully completing a treatment plan and connecting them with a follow-up treatment plan closer to where they live after finishing the core, month-long intervention. At a minimum, THRIVE Program managers will check in with participants four times in the year following completion of the THRIVE Program: at the one-month, three-month, six-month and one-year marks.
“There are many overlapping symptoms between traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress that make diagnosis and treatment incredibly difficult. All too often, veterans receive inadequate or incomplete care that does not address the true cause of their pain,” said Dr. James Kelly from the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network. “We are thrilled to partner with UNC’s Matthew Gfeller Center to help heal the invisible wounds afflicting our veterans.”
North Carolina and the adjacent southeastern states are home to more than 2 million veterans, and tens of thousands of active-duty service members are stationed at military installations throughout the state, such as Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. According to the Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence, 434,618 service members worldwide were diagnosed with traumatic brain injury between 2000 and 2020.
“Through the THRIVE Program, Professor Mihalik and his team will further their abilities to translate research into real-world solutions that ultimately benefit our society,” said Terry Rhodes, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. “We’re grateful for the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network’s shared commitment to working with our veteran community to not just solve problems but improve lives.”
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About the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network
Originally envisioned by Bernie Marcus, co-founder of The Home Depot, the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network is a cognitive health and mental wellness network providing transformative care to veterans and first responders experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries, and substance abuse.
The objective of the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network is to establish 20 sites nationwide by 2023 to serve thousands of veterans, first responders, and their families. This network builds on award-winning actor and humanitarian Gary Sinise’s lifelong commitment to supporting the mental wellness of our nation’s defenders, as well as his Foundation’s 10 years of service to veterans, active-duty military, first responders, their families, and those in need. The Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network will scale the innovative work of the Marcus Institute for Brain Health and Boulder Crest Foundation nationwide: specifically, their care for veterans dealing with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress.
The Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network provides world-class services, treatment, and training to help heal the invisible wounds afflicting our veterans, first responders and their families, transforming struggle into strength, and lifelong post-traumatic growth. The fund takes its name from Arthurian legend — Avalon was the sanctuary where King Arthur was taken to heal before returning to lead his people into a new golden age. The core belief that wounded heroes can come back from battle stronger is what led to the formation of the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network.
About the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s first public university, is a global higher education leader known for innovative teaching, research and public service. A member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, Carolina regularly ranks as the best value for academic quality in U.S. public higher education. Now in its third century, the University offers 77 bachelor’s, 107 master’s, 65 doctorate and seven professional degree programs through 14 schools, including the College of Arts & Sciences. Every day, faculty, staff and students shape their teaching, research and public service to meet North Carolina’s most pressing needs in every region and all 100 counties. Carolina’s more than 340,000 alumni live in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories and 159 countries. More than 185,000 live in North Carolina.
University Communications: Media Relations, 919-445-8555, [email protected]
Media Contact for the Gary Sinise Foundation and Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network: Marielle Gilbert, 818-915-8484, [email protected]
For veterans or first responders seeking care and/or suffering symptoms related to post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury: Apply for care from the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network at this link.
For veterans in crisis, please contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255.