For seven years, there have been high hopes and expectations that Waco, Texas would be host to a world-class VA research facility. Consolidating the Austin-based Brain Injury Recovery Laboratory and Waco’s Center of Excellence into one facility, it was thought that, 1 “this program consolidation will enable [the] VA to meet its mission of better understanding brain injuries…” Waco is right next to Fort Hood, so the high hopes seemed in tune with location reality. Right before it opened, then-Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Waco) lauded it as, “one of the few programs in the country focused on the links between genes and brain anatomy in the development of PTSD and mental illness in our combat soldiers.” The Center even had many designated areas of the building devoted to the study of TBI and PTSD. However, after all the excitement of the opening of the facility ended, it seems that much of the research activity in it essentially did too.
Perhaps it was all of these high hopes, coupled with the new, expensive equipment, that led to the program’s perceived failure. In 2014, “a 10-month [local newspaper] investigation… found that the VA squandered millions of dollars and six years of research opportunity just as brain injuries were spiking among U.S. service members.” (Of particular note was the finding that a MRI scanner that was purchased in 2008 for $3.6 million, had since stayed dormant.) This investigation was noticed by Congress, who started an investigation of their own, launched by Rep. Bill Flores (R-Waco).
Last week, the VA debuted a new, expanded state-of-the-art research facility in Waco, Texas. (This is very similar to the nomenclature that was used in 2009 for the facility’s original launch and, in fact, this new facility was originally planned to open in 2011.) Housed in the Doris Miller Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, the VISN 17 Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans, as it’s known, employs 70 people from around the country. These people must then find residence in Waco. Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver says that, “attracting these well-paid professionals to Waco will ripple through the local economy,” which is an unexpected benefit of the Center. Currently, a number of studies have already been planned, including Project Serve, SHE Study, the Moral Injury Project and treatment of traumatic brain injury using EEG neurofeedback.