The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus soon will be home to a one-of-a-kind, intensive treatment center for those suffering from traumatic brain injury, most notably retired athletes and military veterans.

Expected to be fully operational by early fall, the Marcus Institute for Brain Health in Aurora, Colo., is being funded by a $38 million gift from Bernie Marcus, a founder of both Home Depot and the Marcus Foundation. In its first year, the Marcus Institute for Brain Health is looking to serve 200 military veterans and their families, and 400 by 2020. As part of the gift from the foundation, veterans will pay nothing out of pocket for their treatment.

The institute's innovative therapy model looks at traumatic brain injury and psychological health together, and integrates patients into cohort groups of about 20 who live on-site for three weeks, says Kathryn Hardin, clinical lead at the MIBH and an assistant professor in CU's School of Medicine. Care is continued when patients return home and are given a plan of action as well as contacts at local nonprofit organizations.

MIBH will involve patients' family members in the course of treatment. There are some alternative programs such as yoga, acupuncture, acupressure and relaxation, and therapy utilizing art, horses or dogs is planned. Therapy begins with an interdisciplinary diagnostic. A speech therapist will assess cognitive rehabilitation, for example, or a patient may undergo a sleep study.

“When we think about care at the Marcus Institute, it’s really important that we have a lot of options, because each person coming in has not only a very different history but a different level of comfort,” Hardin says. “One person might love the idea of acupuncture. For another veteran, just the idea of a needle breaking the skin can be very traumatic.”

According to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, an office of the Department of Defense, as of Sept. 11, 2001, there were 361,092 veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury (about 80 percent suffer from mild TBI). Cases of brain health can be costly, too, as the level of care required for veterans with such an injury is four times greater than in cases without, and the cost is seven times higher, says Hardin.

Spencer Milo, director of veterans programs, communications and strategic development at the institute, is managing outreach with nonprofit veterans organizations. A veteran who suffered a traumatic brain injury during combat, he says there are more than 45,000 organizations doing such work, including Team Red, White & Blue, Team Rubicon and Hire Heroes USA.

“People understand the need for programs like this out in the space,” Milo says. “We’re also going to be serving veterans who maybe got out as other than honorable discharge status who do not have any insurance or benefits, and we will still be able to help them out and cover their costs.”

The relationship between athletes and veterans is another aspect of treatment at MIBH. Athletes suffering from brain injury or chronic traumatic encephalopathy will be mixed into cohorts with veterans, which Hardin says further supports veterans who are adjusting to civilian life. Some athletes have expressed interest in covering a veteran’s expenses, she says.

Similar facilities treating TBI include Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, UCLA Health in Los Angeles, Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.