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The VA STAR Program: A treatment center, unlike anything you've ever experienced.

The Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center is one of the nation's best VA hospitals. It serves the fourths largest veteran population in the United States. Providing life-saving and sustainment care for all veterans within Virginia and North Carolina.

Within its ever-growing and expanding campus lies Building 514, which is home to one of the best-kept secrets in the history of the VA. The Servicemember Transitional Advanced Rehabilitation program, more commonly known as the STAR program.

The STAR program is the premier treatment center for Active Duty and Retired veterans that need advanced care due to service-connected issues, especially traumatic brain injuries or TBIs. The program is built specifically for service members and veterans that need assistance with transitioning back to the civilian workforce and community.

Unlike seeking treatment from multiple providers at your Unit or Local VA, the STAR Program has a dedicated care team of multiple providers that develop a unique and detailed treatment plan that is specific to the individual. From start to finish the individual patient is the only thing that matters, which is not something many of us are used to.

Inpatient treatment care has a lot of negative connotations. Many people think that since the facility offers mental health care and rehabilitation programs for traumatic brain injuries, it would inherently lack privacy and autonomy.

However, the STAR program does the complete opposite. One of the main areas of focus in Occupational therapy is helping patients regain their autonomy and independence by learning how to conduct everyday tasks such as cooking, shopping, and cleaning. The Occupational therapists at the STAR program will also address other cognitive, sensory, and physical problems you might have. They even help you tackle insomnia by utilizing the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Insomnia treatment program. Which has an 80% success rate.

To help address the physical issues, the care team also includes kinesiologists, physical therapists, and even a chiropractor who all work together to ensure that all treatment and rehabilitation programs are developed to promote recovery, growth, and, most importantly, no injuries occur. The STAR program providers understand that if you've made it to their Center you more than like come with a decade-plus of injuries and issues. They understand that sometimes a reduction in daily levels of pain is a huge victory to celebrate.

Taking care of physical injuries is very important, but for many of us the mental health issues are just as bad, and the STAR has a team of professionals for that as well.

The STAR program has a Psychologist, Speech therapist, Vision therapist, recreational therapist, and a vocational rehabilitation team that is dedicated to providing the patients the best care possible.

These providers work together to address the more complex issues and injuries that the service member is struggling with due to TBI and other mental health issues such as PTSD. Having access to a dedicated Psychologist daily is another reason why the STAR program is a remarkable resource that more service members need to be aware of.

The best-kept secret of the Program is the Speech department. The work that the Speech Therapist does is truly life-changing. TBIs and PTSD alter the way we process the world around us, but it also impacts our ability to communicate. Brain fog, stutter, trouble speaking, feeling like you can't find the right words, and even feeling as if you can't process things as others can. Through Speech therapy, you can learn how to declutter your mind, learn how to process your thoughts, and learn techniques that will help you navigate conversations successfully without feeling drained.

Getting your life back means learning how to enjoy life again too. The STAR program also has one of the best recreational therapy teams that you could ever hope to meet. They will truly go above and beyond to help you find balance in your life by understanding that living means being able to take time for yourself. Whether it's painting, drawing, getting back on a bike the Recreational Therapy team has ways to expose you to new hobbies or activities that will help you find joy in everyday hobbies and activities again.

Vision is another key area of focus at the STAR. Finding ways to treat vision issues due to TBI and other Neurological trauma is a big area of focus at the STAR. You will be able to address many of the pesky issues you might be suffering from such as light sensitivity at work, poor vision at night, and specialty lenses to help with migraines.

If you will be transitioning back to civilian life, the Vocational rehabilitation team has got you covered. They are experts in helping you assess your strengths, weaknesses, and even help you explore every possible employment opportunity. The Vocational Rehab team will help you develop every aspect of your post Military career plan. From resume-building to informational interviews, they are there to help you develop the confidence and skills you'll need to take on your next challenge.

The team is also directed by a Medical Doctor that will be with you throughout your stay. They are there to ensure that everything you discuss or bring up will be documented and thoroughly checked out.

For me, the STAR program gave me back a portion of myself that I thought was lost forever. I was excited for the opportunity to attend this amazing treatment center, but I had no idea that I would walk away from the experience with such a profound feeling of gratitude and the feeling of knowing who I truly was. The STAR program can't make miracles happen, the providers can't wave a magic wand and make our trauma go away. But if you show up ready to work, with hope and positivity, you will leave the program as the best possible version of yourself.

If you would like to know more including other locations that offer the STAR program, please follow the link posted below. The VA website will refer to the program as “Polytrauma/TBI System of care”. If you are on Active Duty speak with your Primary Care provider or Nurse Case Manager for information on how to get a referral to attend the program. If you are a Veteran ask your VA care team for more information.

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