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Durham VA Health Care System


Joining Forces

Dr. leads discussion in front of large projector screen

Bruce Capehart, M.D., MBA, Medical Director of the OEF/OIF Clinic at the Durham VAMC, presented on Traumatic Brain Injury at the seminar Joining Forces at Duke University School of Nursing: A Call to Action.

By Pete Tillman, Durham VA Public Affairs
Thursday, December 27, 2012

Joining Forces, an initiative led by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, asks Americans to do more in support of military service members and their families. The movement includes a three pronged approach focused on employment, education, and wellness. Recently, the Duke University School of Nursing (DUSON) stepped up and put together an informative seminar aimed at wellness entitled “Joining Forces at Duke University School of Nursing: A Call to Action.”

When it came to finding experts to lead portions of the seminar, all they needed to do was look across Erwin Road to their partners at the Durham VA. The Durham VA’s mission to honor Veterans by providing health care that improves their health and well being made for a great fit. We were grateful to play a part in DUSON’s commitment to America’s heroes.

Joining Forces - Taking Action to Service America’s Military Families came to life at DUSON for approximately 60 attendees, some of which were Veterans themselves. By calling attention to the issues facing Veterans, active duty military, and families, the seminar aimed to educate nurses on how to recognize the symptoms and devastating effects of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). At the end of the day, the event thoroughly honored service members and met the goal of doing more for those who have sacrificed a tremendous burden for us.

Dr. Charles Vacchiano, DUSON Professor, opened the seminar. A 26 year Navy Veteran, he underscored the importance of mobilization to meet the critical issues facing Veterans. “Our goal is to create greater connections and our focus today is on wellness,” Dr. Vacchiano said. More than 625 schools of nursing nationwide have pledged support to enhance the preparation of our nation’s nurses to care for Veterans, service members, and family members. “This seminar is the first step to fulfill our pledge,” Vacchiano said.

Dr. Catherine Gilliss, Dean and Vice Chancellor for Nursing Affairs at Duke University School of Nursing, wholeheartedly supported the Joining Forces campaign and believes it is matched by the commitment among the nursing profession to care for those who have given so much. Setting the seminar in the right direction, her words were both compelling and personal. “Today is more than intellectual interest, we can better understand the nature of the sacrifice made by those who serve,” Dr. Gilliss, daughter of a Veteran, said. Dr. Gilliss knows the unique health care needs of Veterans, having worked at the VA medical center in Washington, D.C. “That experience left an indelible impression on me as a young nurse. This topic has a close spot near my heart. We want to work in close partnership with those here and it does not end today,” Dr. Gilliss continued.

After dispelling Hollywood’s portray of blast related trauma, Bruce Capehart, M.D., MBA, Medical Director of the OEF/OIF Clinic at the Durham VAMC, took great care in explaining the factors that lead to diagnosis and treatment of TBI. Dr. Capehart, an Army Veteran himself, recognized that TBI in the civilian population and military population present differently.

He is urging medical educators to introduce Veterans scenarios into case studies at medical schools and knows the compounding value of teaching non-VA Providers about Veterans. “Joining Forces is important because of the community care provided to Veterans. The Veterans who served overseas since 9/11 are using the VA for healthcare at an unprecedented rate, but we still only see around half of them. Those percentages are lower for other Veteran cohorts,” Dr. Capehart said. “It is important for non-VA clinicians to understand the unique health care needs of our nation’s Veterans so these men and women can receive the care they earned. The Duke University School of Nursing showed tremendous leadership in holding this seminar to highlight several vital needs for Veterans and their families,” Dr. Capehart continued.

Dr. Michael Hertzberg, M.D., Director of the Durham VA Specialized Outpatient PTSD Clinic, is an Associate Professor at the Duke University Medical School Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. After several related presentations, Dr. Hertzberg provided a briefing on PTSD and in a short amount of time covered the foundation for the diagnosis and treatment of the disorder. Christy Knight, MSW, LCSW, is the Caregiver Support Coordinator at the Durham VA. Ms. Knight closed the seminar by presenting the role of the Caregiver and the importance of recognizing the needs of those who care for Veteran patients.

We are thankful to have DUSON and others that have taken action to support our heroes. For more information about PTSD visit, for more information about TBI, visit, and for more information about Caregivers, visit


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