A Natural Road to Recovery for Injured Warriors

four older men in suits cut a green ribbon with large scissors while a crowd watches

Research aims to uncover treatments for PTSD

On September 26, 2016, the Institute for Integrative Health welcomed 200 guests for the dedication of the Green Road, an outdoor healing environment for injured military service members and their families at Naval Support Activity Bethesda, home of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Created as a model for similar projects at military and civilian health care institutions, the two-acre woodland garden is the first to use wild nature to support the health of injured service members.

The next step in the project is a research study to measure the Green Road’s healing impact on service members’ recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other serious conditions.

“We’re hopeful that findings of the Green Road research will lead to more effective, holistic treatments for service members and veterans suffering with traumatic injuries,” said retired U.S. Navy neurologist Frederick Foote, MD, who conceived the vision for the Green Road and managed its development.

PTSD and traumatic brain injury contribute to the despair that can lead to suicide. Anecdotal evidence suggests that spending time in nature has a positive impact on these conditions; however, very few scientific studies have examined these effects. The Institute for Integrative Health and scientists from four institutions will work to fill that gap with the support of many donors, including the TKF Foundation.

“I think the research that’s going to come from this is going to be very far-reaching.”

– Senator Barbara A. Mikulski

The Institute is now in its final stage of raising funds for the Green Road to support a two-year research program and veteran projects.

“What we learn can lead to healthier communities for all of us,” said Brian Berman, MD, president of the Institute for Integrative Health. “Innovative research can open doors to greater understanding of nature’s role in our health. It can shape policy decisions and influence funding for more natural spaces in our communities and health care centers.”

The Green Road’s research team aims to shed light on the array of positive changes that occur throughout the body when a sick or injured person encounters nature. An initial study will measure four biomarkers of the stress response and mathematically combine them to produce the first single, whole-body stress metric in clinical use. Researchers will also assess the expression of genes related to PTSD and analyze stories and journals through qualitative language analysis and natural language processing.

The project’s researchers are from Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, College of Medicine, University of Arizona at Tucson; Benson-Henry Institute of the Massachusetts General Hospital; Consortium for Health and Military Performance, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences; and National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, Pain and Palliative Care Service.

Located between two main patient residence areas on the naval base, the Green Road features a natural stream, mature trees, a commemorative pavilion for honoring fallen warriors, a communal pavilion, and a streamside wheelchair/walking path. Seating areas include a circle of large stones, called a council ring.

The Green Road was created by a team of military service members, architects, engineers, landscape architects, and healthcare professionals. Design-build firm CDM Smith performed the engineering and construction. Collaborators on the Green Road’s design were CDM Smith, Alt Architecture, and the University of Maryland Landscape Architecture program under the direction of Jack Sullivan, FASLA.

VIDEONBC Washington/News4 reports on the Green Road’s dedication.