Perry Visits Brooke Army Medical Center To Talk Supercomputing

Mar 26, 2018

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry stopped by Brooke Army Medical Center Friday to tour several of its rehab facilities and speak to veterans. Perry's visit fueled rumors that he may be President Trump's choice to replace Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, who has come under fire in recent weeks for his travel expenditures.

But Perry denied he'd been tapped for the position.

"I think they refer to that as fake news,” he said. “I'm very happy. We've got a lot of on our plate. The president recognizes that. We're not going anywhere."

Perry focused the rest of his remarks on a new program which leverages the Department of Energy's data-crunching capabilities to improve veterans' healthcare.

“The Department of Energy, though our national labs in particular, have amazing capabilities being a support mechanism for other areas of government,” he said. “In particular, our massive computing capability. Five of the fastest computers in the world belong to the DOE.”

The program, called Advanced Computational and Translational Initiative for Veterans, will analyze massive amounts of data from the V.A. and military health system in order to create a blueprint of the health challenges facing veterans.  

Lt. Col. Joseph Alderete, surgical director for the Center of the Intrepid, shared how the ACTIV program would impact his ability to offer care.

“So everyone — from those who’ve stepped off a curb to those who’ve been blown up in combat or dealt with cancer — has a print on their brain that is individualized but still follows certain patterns,” he said. “As we begin to capture every individual set of data and plug that into a system that may be able to give us a menu for how best to surgically reconstruct them and then mentally rehabilitate them afterwards, it becomes massively powerful.”

He added: “Previously this would’ve taken ten years worth of accruing data, a system to store it, an additional search process, and search staff to be able to grab the data.”

With the help of DOE supercomputers, that same data will be curated and searchable within hours, he said.

“As we have the ability to store large volumes of data sets from injury itself, we can understand — from AI experience — what that’s taught us,” he said.

Perry spoke about who would benefit.

“The real recipients of what we’re doing are future warfighters, our veterans, and citizens who have had either PTSD or traumatic brain injuries,” he said.

The DOE already has projects underway at Lawrence Livermore, Argonne, and UC-Berkeley National Laboratories, and is expecting new findings on traumatic brain injury in the coming weeks,  according to the agency’s advisor on veterans, Morgan Luttrell.

The Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services are also supporting the data effort.

Carson Frame can be reached at carson@tpr.org or on Twitter @carson_frame