Micaela Cornis-Pop

National program manager, Polytrauma System of Care, Veterans Health Administration, Rehabilitation and Prosthetic Services, Department of Veterans Affairs

Best known for: Cornis-Pop oversees more than 110 rehabilitation facilities around the country, helping the VA stay at the forefront of developments in treating traumatic brain injury and other medical issues facing veterans and military service members. With the increase in battlefield survival rates of military personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, service members live with more complex injuries, which led the VA to coin the word “polytrauma” to describe multiple injuries to one person, the most prevalent of which is traumatic brain injury, but can include post-traumatic stress disorder, amputations and auditory and visual impairments. In 2005, Cornis-Pop helped conceive, develop and implement the VA’s Polytrauma System of Care, an integrated network of facilities that provide specialized programs to help wounded men and women recover and move from acute care to outpatient rehabilitation and reintegration into the community. She now leads and manages the system, developing policies and procedures and monitoring their implementation. She also is responsible for providing education opportunities for VA health-care providers who treat traumatic brain injuries. And Cornis-Pop was the lead author and editor of a book for an independent study course on traumatic brain injury. Between April 2010 and July 2012, nearly 12,000 clinicians completed the course, either using the book or the Web version of it.

Government service: Cornis-Pop has worked for the VA since 1995, first as rehabilitation team manager for the Brain Injury Rehabilitation bed unit at the Richmond Veterans Administration Medical Center. In 2005, she became rehabilitation planning specialist at the Veterans Health Administration, Rehabilitation and Prosthetic Services, and in 2009 started in her current position there as national program manager for the Polytrauma System of Care.

Motivation for service: The work in traumatic brain injury is intellectually exciting to Cornis-Pop, in terms of deepening the understanding of the relationship between brain, language, cognition and behavior. She finds it satisfying professionally to be able to apply this knowledge to help individuals recover language and cognitive skills that may have been affected by illness or injury.

Biggest challenge: The scale of the Polytrauma System of Care, and the complexities and ever-evolving health-care and psychosocial needs of veterans and their families, are challenging and humbling, Cornis-Pop said. She works with many others besides veterans, service members and their families, including advocacy groups, veterans’ organizations and academia, requiring her to maintain flexibility and focus, all the while understanding that the system is under routine scrutiny. In addition, Cornis-Pop and her staff have to forecast how they are going to continue to provide these services 10, 30 and 50 years out.

Quote: “The bond that drives those of us in government service is the sense of mission to serve our fellow citizens, and the honor to participate in the good functioning of our government. For those of us in the Department of Veterans Affairs, there is the added responsibility of caring for those who have sacrificed for our country.”

— From the Partnership

for Public Service

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