The Warrior and Family Support Center – A green haven in San Antonio, TX

Warrior and Family Support Center, San Antonio, TX. Photo by Naomi Sachs

Last month, I had the privilege of seeing the Warrior and Family Support Center (WFSC) in San Antonio, Texas. Three other Texas A&M classmates (an MArch student and two MLA students) and I drove the 3.5 hours from College Station to visit the WFSC and the Center for the Intrepid (CFI), both on the Fort Sam Houston campus. The Center for the Intrepid offers the full spectrum of outpatient care for veterans and “wounded warriors” – active military personnel – who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with severe injuries such as limb loss, burns, and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Patients are also treated for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The three missions of CFI include patient care, education and training, and research. Like all major military medical centers, the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston includes Fisher Houses, a place for the entire family to stay while patients are going through treatment and rehabilitation.

Fountain in central courtyard at the Warrior and Family Support Center, San Antonio, TX. Photo by Naomi Sachs

Fountain in central courtyard

The WFSC provides a neutral, home-like place for families and patients to gather after long and often painful days of treatment. “BAMC [Brook Army Medical Center] physicians, along with others involved in all aspects of patient care, saw that families are an essential part of a patient’s rehabilitation and recovery.  In addition to the patients’ living quarters, a place was needed that was away from the hospital.  The patient and family needed a “safe” environment in which to enhance the healing process and learn how to cope with war related disabilities as individuals, couples and as families.” (WFSC website)

Warrior and Family Support Center, San Antonio, TX. Photo by Naomi Sachs

A family checks out the waterfall

The Center for the Intrepid building and rehabilitation program was truly impressive. But as a landscape architect, what captivated me most was the landscape at the WFSC. The original garden (Phase I) as well as the just-opened Phase II, were designed by landscape architect Brian Bainnson of Quatrefoil, Inc. Phase I ties in with the existing building, which is much more smaller in scale than the other buildings on the campus. The courtyard, surrounded on three sides by the limestone building with deep, shaded portals, provides a feeling of safety and security. Planters overflow with trees and vegetation, and a water feature in the center provides a gentle, soothing sound. The portals extend beyond the building, leading out to a butterfly garden and a playground on one side and a smaller playground on the other. Water elements, such as the courtyard fountain and a waterfall that feeds a small fish pond, create a feeling of oasis (if you’ve been to San Antonio, you know the importance of shade and water).

Warrior and Family Support Center, San Antonio, TX. Photo by Naomi Sachs

As stated on the Phase II page of the WFSC website (I highly recommend visiting the page and reading the whole description), Other therapeutic elements include walking trails with varied surfaces, and two distinct fitness trails with physical fitness elements that will be designed to accommodate those in wheelchairs as well as those at typical standing heights.  These two trails will be set up as an easy/moderate trail for those just beginning to test their physical limits, and a moderate/hard trail for those who are advanced in their therapy.  Each trail will have ten different elements suited for various skill levels.  The trail elements will have well marked signage demonstrating the use of each element.  Each trail will be designed to provide a well-balanced physical fitness routine for the entire body.  Individual stations with exercise apparatus will be placed along a walking/jogging path.  The trails will provide an ideal alternative to facility-based therapeutic exercises, and will provide an activity that a family member could participate in as well.  The self-paced nature of these trails, as well as the strategically placed shade structures will allow for numerous therapeutic opportunities.

Warrior and Family Support Center, San Antonio, TX. Photo by Naomi Sachs

Warrior and Family Support Center Fitness trail

Though more research is needed on what specific design elements are best for people returning from combat with polytraumas (multiple physical and/or emotional traumas), what we do know has been well incorporated into the landscape design: Plenty of shade; a sense of safety and security; a homelike environment; easily navigable walking surfaces, but also some walkways that provide more of a challenge; colored concrete to reduce glare; lush plantings; positive distractions such as water, plants that attract butterflies, and a wide variety of flora; a plethora of seating, including covered areas with fans and heaters that allow people to be outside in inclement weather and that help regulate people’s body temperatures; children’s play areas; plenty of different spaces that allow for quiet contemplation, one-on-one conversation, or group interaction; and opportunities for light and more strenuous exercise.

The military is making a concerted effort to use the latest research to inform the design of new VA (Veterans Administration) and DOD (Department of Defense) healthcare facilities (see, for example, this article in Healthcare Design magazine). If the landscape at the Warrior and Family Center in San Antonio is a bellwether, then they are definitely on the right track.

For past TLN Blog posts related to veterans, visit the following: