KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Cerner-sponsored program to help veterans and first responders with brain injuries will be the focus of an upcoming Discovery Channel special on Aug. 30.
Cerner made one of the largest charitable donations in its history to help found the Life Aid Research Institute in March as the coronavirus pandemic was just beginning.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said it’s seen a 200% spike in mental health calls since the pandemic started.
Javier Romo was a Marine Reservist activated shortly after 9/11.
“When the blast hit me, I could feel the glass hit my face, and I was sent backward,” Romo said.
He doesn’t remember the next day or two, but since he didn’t have any obvious serious physical injuries he continued on with the invasion of Iraq.
“Little by little throughout the years, symptoms began to get a little more chronic,” Romo said of his attempt to re-acclimate to regular life.
He recently signed up for the new Life Aid Research Institute. Cerner, the program’s founding sponsor, said its sole purpose to look at new ways to combat suicide, with 20 veterans a day dying that way — more than in combat.
“Research is all at looking at the health of the brain because the underlying root of mental health and thoughts of depression and suicide is all about the health of your brain,” said Eileen Rivera, director of government services for Cerner.
Romo had an EEG scan of his brain through the program.
“You see the anxiety; you see the depression; you see all the mental health issues lit up,” Romo said. “And then you see the brain injury. It blew me away.”
The scans are done at retreats where 9/11 victims, first responders and veterans try not to just mask symptoms, but improve brain health through activities like cycling and yoga.
“Connecting is huge, actually being around others who not only understand what you are going through. But you don’t feel isolated and you don’t feel like you are the only one,” Romo said.
Though it’s been tough with COVID-19, the next retreat is planned this month in Bend, Oregon, on Aug. 23.