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To enhance long-term care for returning troops and their families, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) recently joined forces with Auburn University and Auburn University Montgomery to develop Project SERVE.

Commemorating the launch of this initiative, an opening ceremony was held at Walter Reed Bethesda March 10. Recognizing the need for long-term care, Project SERVE was created to expand the supportive network of civilian nurses, institutions and health care organizations across the nation through educational opportunities, explained Cmdr. Michele Kane, executive assistant to the director at Defense Health Agency.

Among the hardest hit states with veterans returning home with traumatic brain injuries were Texas and Alabama, home of Auburn University and Auburn University Montgomery schools of nursing. Through Project SERVE, a group of 17 Auburn nursing students and faculty received training this week at WRNMMC in the Military Advanced Training Center, National Intrepid Center of Excellence, surgical ward and the Mental Health and Traumatic Brain Injury inpatient and outpatient units.

Proud to be involved in this initiative, WRNMMC Director Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Clark said Project SERVE is an innovative, patient-centered collaboration, focused on ensuring the highest quality of care for our warriors.

“Project SERVE will maintain that continuum of compassion and comprehensive healing for our heroes,” Clark said. “These heroes and their families deserve no less, for their visible wounds and for those that are less visible.”

Almost a year and a half in the making, Clark added Project SERVE is breaking ground, as WRNMMC, Auburn University and Auburn University Montgomery Schools of Nursing are the first educational institutions leading this particular model in support of First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden’s Joining Forces Campaign.

On April 11, 2012, the first lady and Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, announced their campaign charging national organizations and nursing schools with further educating the nation’s three million nurses, preparing them to meet the unique health care needs of service members, veterans and their families.

“We are indeed joining forces,” Clark said. “Veterans and their families will benefit from this unique commitment to nursing excellence.”

Kane echoed similar sentiments. She said to the students, wearing their orange and white scrubs, “We are opening our doors. We are not limiting ourselves to geography, and we are inviting you in to help better visualize and understand, firsthand, successful evidence-based treatment modalities [used in the] care of our brothers and sisters, that we hold so dear in our hearts.”

A key leader in launching the initiative, Kane added she hopes the program continues to expand, transcending to other states where long-term care for veterans is also needed.

Dr. John Veres III, chancellor of Auburn University Montgomery, expressed his gratitude for WRNMMC’s support.

“[Project SERVE] will immediately enhance our students’ abilities to serve our wounded, by providing incomparable opportunities to better understand their special needs,” Veres said. “The bottom line is we shall produce better nurses as a result of this program. Both of our schools, at both campuses, will produce better nurses.”

Several of the nursing students were excited about their opportunity to expand their skills, to better serve veterans and their families, including Evan Deveny, a senior at Auburn University School of Nursing.

“I signed up for this program because I want to learn more about how to serve those who protect us, and how to better care for them,” Deveny said. “I’m most excited to learn more about therapeutic communication, and how to talk to those who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and their families.”

Emily Dawson, another senior from Auburn University School of Nursing, expressed interest in learning more about PTSD and gratitude for the chance to participate in the program.

“It’s a great opportunity to learn and acquire the skills to better serve our veterans … I hope to be able to bring those skills to civilian hospitals,” Dawson said. “I’m hoping I can better reach out to those veterans and their families and connect them with resources to get them the care they need.”