BETHESDA, Md. — Defense leaders feel a "debt and a need and a requirement" to address the stresses troop feel from combat and what happens afterward, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Thursday,

"Combat changes people," said Marine Gen. James Cartwright said. "It changes the members of the service. It changes their families. It changes the communities they live in. And we have to acknowledge those changes. We have to address those changes."

Cartwright spoke Thursday at the groundbreaking for a new center to treat brain injuries and psychological wounds. The move is "overdue," he said.

"It is something that men and women in uniform deserve, not only from the current conflict, but from past conflicts," Cartwright said.

The National Intrepid Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury is slated to be completed in late 2009, according to a news release for Thursday’s event.

Money for the center is being raised by the Intrepid Fallen Heroes fund, a private charity that previously raised $60 million to build the Center for the Intrepid, a rehabilitation facility for amputees and burn victims at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, the news release said.

The center will focus on researching, diagnosing and treating TBI and psychological issues, said Arnold Fisher, honorary chairman of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. It will also provide follow-up care, he said.

"The need for this world-class facility has never been more pressing or more important," said Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Gates said the center would provide a "holistic approach" to treat the unseen wounds caused by repeated combat deployments and the nature of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Army Sgt. Francis Collins was among several recovering servicemembers who attended the ceremony. Collins, of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment (Stryker), 1st Armored Division, based in Vilseck, Germany, said he suffered TBI after surviving an explosively formed penetrator attack in Iraq.

He said the new center will help the military learn more about TBI, an injury about which much is not known.

"It’s a very big step and a good move," Collins said.

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