TAMPA, Fla — As medical technology becomes more advanced to treat the most horrific of battlefield injuries, so too does the ability to diagnose and heal the unseen wounds of war.

Mental injuries are common among veterans, and they can be just as deadly as physical ones. 

Here in Tampa, one VA program is paving the way for helping elite members of the military heal, thinking outside the box with virtual reality and the arts through a program called PREP.

“What I love about the music therapy is that you find different parts of your brain that helps you with your pain,” retired Marine Corps Michael Carrasquilla who is currently in the PREP program said.

“When you’re focusing on the music you’re not focusing on the constant headaches you have or PTSD.”

Music therapy is just one part of the multi-faceted PREP program, a post-deployment treatment program created to help veterans and active duty service members recover to live their full lives again. The program can last few a few weeks to a few months depending on the needs of the patient.

“One of the projects our art teacher does is have us draw on these masks. Mine would have a shield over it, and when you lift it up you would see this. It’s not completely done yet, but it’s who I was before my 20 years in the Marine Corps. Other people can use the mask to describe trauma they’ve had,” Carrasquilla said.

Doctor Steven Scott, chief of physical medicine and rehab, coined the term Polytrauma and established the program.

“The success is really positive. Almost over 90% have some improvement. We usually take about 60 to 100 patients who come in and the length of their stay depends on their needs. There is a stigma associated with those serving who need help and it shouldn’t be looked down upon," Dr. Scott said.

"This program helps people be able to be deployed again or in other cases helps them adjust to civilian life.”

Dr. Scott created the program after noticing these high performers sometimes need help in other ways before deploying again or adjusting back to civilian life.

“Remember, these people have done extraordinary things like jumping out of planes hundreds of times, experienced the stresses of combat and so much more. Experiences that you and I have never had before and could never think of doing in some cases. This program is tailored to help them and manage their experiences,” Dr. Scott said.

The program also offers virtual reality training, an underwater treadmill and other ways to help members receive a holistic approach to healing.

“If you let it the program can help you. After 3 months of being here, I’m not a fool and it won’t help me heal entirely. But think of it as ‘if you teach a man to fish, then he can feed himself for a lifetime’, it gives us the tools to heal and succeed moving forward,” Carrasquilla said.

PREP has has helped about 600 people since 2008. There will also be the first creative arts festival next month for veterans to showcase their art.

PREP for veterans
James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital

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