Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are the signature wounds of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Proper diagnosis and early treatment are crucial. Yet medical facilities equipped to address these injuries are vanishingly few, leaving countless military personnel struggling to get diagnosed — and get better.

Spencer Milo, Retired Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, was one of the “lucky” ones.

Injured in an attack in Afghanistan in 2011 when a young suicide bomber detonated an explosive device (Milo’s actions in that battle earned him the Purple Heart), he underwent four months of treatment at Fort Bragg, the Army base in North Carolina. During that time, “nothing was getting better,” said Milo.

“A lot of it was from a lack of diagnosis. It was the generic, ‘oh you have TBI, no, you have post-traumatic stress.’”

Eventually he was transferred to the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE), a 72,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility in Bethesda, Maryland, designed to diagnose and treat military personnel and veterans with TBI and psychological health conditions. It’s the only facility of its kind.

There he received four weeks of intensive treatment and was diagnosed with TBI and post-traumatic stress — along with a host of other conditions.

“When I went into NICoE I had 2 diagnoses; when I left I had 27, and that was not a bad thing,” said Milo. They included fractured discs in his back, hearing loss, eye problems (“when you get your head rattled around, sometimes your eyes don’t want to work,” noted Milo) and central auditory processing disorder.

The diagnoses were a turning point. “Once you can specify a diagnosis, you can specify how to treat it,” said Milo.

He left with a detailed treatment plan and is continuing to mend. “My healing’s doing well. I still have my moments, I still have migraines pretty often. I don’t really have seizures any more. I’m on a good track.”

Milo said his health would be nowhere near where it is without the Center. “NICoE definitely changed my life for the better. I like to think I’d still be here without the NICoE — but that’s kind of a crap shoot.”

To bring treatment for TBIs and psychological health issues to more service members and veterans, the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund (IFHF), the non-for-profit behind NICoE, has begun opening satellite centers, known as Intrepid Spirit Centers, at military bases around the country.

Each center spans some 25,000 square feet and costs approximately $11 million to build and equip. While much of the operation at NICoE involves research into TBI and psychological health conditions, Intrepid Spirit Centers focus solely on diagnosis and treatment. Five centers have been built to date. Four more are being built or planned.

“Having these Spirit Centers all over is incredibly valuable,” said Milo. “It’s going to increase wounded service members’ ability to get treated tenfold.”

Tuesday, November 29th is giving day for the IFHF. Donations raised will go toward the development of the four additional Intrepid Spirit centers. Visit the IFHF Giving Day website to learn more and make a donation.

Said Milo, “The Spirit Centers, the NICoE, all of them are changing lives daily, and they will continue to do so as long as they’re active.”