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Milwaukee's Spinal Cord Injury Center Provides Veterans A New Outlook

Army Medicine

Many military service members return from war with traumatic battlefield injuries and often require intensive and prolonged care. Injuries can range from lost limbs, partial or complete paralysis, and traumatic brain injuries, and veterans often deal with PTSD for the rest of their lives.   

The US Veteran's Administrationn is in charge of taking care of these wounded warriors. The VA has come under fire for the way it has handled it's mission, but the Clement J. Zablocki Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Milwaukee has received consistently high marks. 

Among the leading edge programs under the aegis of the Zablocki Center is the spinal cord injury division. That program is under the direction of Doctor Kenneth Lee – himself a veteran wounded in Iraq.

"Milwaukee's spinal cord injury center is one of the 24 spinal cord injury centers in the VA system. We like to think that we're the best out there for our veterans," says Dr. Lee. According to him, many of the veterans that they see come through the center suffer from not only their physical issues, but are also afflicted with mental issues, like depression, as well. 

Dr. Lee and the rest of the staff at the Zablocki Center focus on providing lifelong care to these injured veterans with state-of-the-art technology that many other VA locations just don't have access to. “We actually provide such a great system of care in terms of the therapy that we give, the equipment that we provide," he explains. 

However, even after initial treatment occurs, Dr. Lee says that many veterans fail to acclimate back into the civilian community. “Our veterans shouldn’t be stuck in the VA, they should be out in the community," he explains.

As another way of helping their patients, the Zablocki Center is working with over 30 community partners to enable veterans to participate in recreational and adaptive sports activities. According to Dr. Lee, these types of activities have the ability to not only bring fun to veterans, but also to permanently change lives for the better. “We have had veterans who have been stuck in the middle of drug and alcohol rehab and they’ve been struggling," explains Dr. Lee. "We introduce them to sports, next thing you know, completely dry and now leading teams and becoming peer mentors.” 

This years EveryBODY Plays! Adaptive Sports and Recreation Expo is being held Saturday, July 25th at Nathan Hale High School in West Allis. It's free and veterans and non-veterans alike are encouraged to attend. 

“Adaptive sports and recreation could really turn people around because they give them a goal and they give them the idea that ‘Hey I can do this. This is definitely an ability, not a disability,'" says Dr. Lee.

Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.
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