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Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Act

The next bill I am covering is H.R. 1944, “The Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Act,” which was introduced on April 19, 2007, by Representative Jason Altmire (D-PA) from Jayne’s hometown.

Representative Altmire introduced this bill to modify U.S. Code Title 38, “Veteran’s Benefits”, which was enacted on September 2, 1958, and signature injury of the war seems to be everywhere, so this is certain to pass.

I found 884 references to “signature injury” on Google, and 537 on Yahoo, up from 883 and 479 yesterday!

Of course, this bill might be amended, but it should improve the chances of returning Vets receiving better TBI care, in whatever form passes.

What follows is Representative Altmire’s original press release, on April, 19, 2007, followed one week later, by his initial testimony, and then the VFW’s statement.

  1. ALTMIRE INTRODUCES BILL TO IMPROVE VETERANS’ HEALTH CARE

    Bipartisan coalition supports essential health care legislation to screen and treat traumatic brain injury

    (Washington, DC)—Rep. Jason Altmire (PA-4) introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure the proper screening and treatment of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) for America’s returning veterans.

    The Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Act, H.R. 1944, would require the Veterans Affairs Administration to institute a program to screen veterans for symptoms of TBI; develop and operate a comprehensive program of long-term care for post-acute TBI rehabilitation; establish a TBI transition office at each of the 21 polytrauma network sites nationwide; and create and maintain a TBI veteran health registry. This legislation is a continuation of Rep. Altmire’s advocacy on behalf of the nation’s veterans.

    “More than 24,000 American troops have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom have sustained multiple injuries due to confronting suicide bombers and improvised explosive devises,” said Rep. Altmire. “More than half of combat casualties in Iraq have associated brain injuries. Most of them include mild TBI, which often goes undiagnosed and is subsequently left untreated.”

    According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes, TBI occurs when a sudden trauma causes damage to the brain. Symptoms of TBI vary depending on the extent of damage to the brain, but include headaches, confusion, dizziness, blurred vision, fatigue, and behavioral and mood changes. Cases of mild TBI are under-diagnosed, especially when a service member has an external injury such as a burn or other life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention.

    “Traumatic brain injury has become the signature injury of both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Among veterans and service members returning from combat overseas, 65 percent have TBI,” said Rep. Altmire. “. The Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Act will help the VA better coordinate care for our wounded warriors to ensure that veterans are properly screened, diagnosed and receive the treatment that they deserve.”

  2. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
    Statement of the Honorable Jason Altmire, a Representative in Congress from the State of Pennsylvania

    Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Health of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

    April 26, 2007
    I would like to thank Chairman Michaud, Ranking Member Miller and members of the committee for the opportunity to testify today about H.R. 1944, the Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Act of 2007, bipartisan legislation that I introduced to increase the screening and treatment of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) for our nation’s veterans.

    Mr. Chairman, we are facing an impending crisis in this country. Our brave men and women are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with TBI at an alarming rate. Of those treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, 65 percent have been diagnosed with TBI as a primary or co-morbid diagnosis.

    Many now consider TBI to be the signature injury of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    I am concerned that the Veterans Affairs Administration may not be properly identifying and treating TBI among the nation’s veterans.

    It is estimated that more than half of all combat casualties have associated brain injuries. Most of them include mild TBI, which is often missed in initial exams as physicians attend to other more apparent injuries.

    The Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Act improves the coordination of TBI care for our nation’s veterans by requiring the Veterans Affairs Administration to screen veterans for symptoms, develop and operate a comprehensive program of long-term care for post-acute TBI rehabilitation, establish TBI transition offices at all poly-trauma network sites, and create and maintain a TBI veteran health registry.

    In our first four months, the 110th Congress has taken enormous strides in meeting its commitment to veterans. We have provided more than $11 billion in increased funding for veterans health care and passed the Wounded Warrior Assistance Act to improve the management of their medical care.

    I believe that we owe no greater debt than to our veterans and, while we have made some progress, we can do more to improve their health care. To this end, the bipartisan Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Act will allow us to properly screen America’s returning heroes for TBI and improve their treatment.

    Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.

  3. H.R. 1944

    The VFW offers our strong support for this legislation which would require VA to implement a screening program for traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

    TBI is the signature wound of this war, as thousands of our men and women in uniform are being exposed to blasts and other traumas which are doing great damage to their brains. This is an area where this nation clearly must do more to care for our sick and disabled, the wounded warriors of this war.

    TBI manifests itself in a number of ways. While some are able to live with its effects, it makes life extremely difficult for others. We know much about its causes and immediate symptoms, but we most know more about it. We have repeatedly called for more studies to fully understand the injuries, their causes, their effects, and especially their long-term impacts.

    This legislation considers the long-term impact, and for those who need it, it would establish programs to provide long-term care and rehabilitation. This is sorely needed.

    Further, it fosters the development of partnerships with other health care institutions through the creation of a TBI transition office, which is charged with coordinating services that are not readily available through VA.

    Given the difficulties we have sadly seen with some of these wounded warriors receiving the care they need, especially for those who live far from the polytrauma centers, this is an excellent step. Many of these clinics and specialty care facilities have great experience with brain injuries and can provide these patients the care they desperately need, and VA with the expertise and training it needs to fulfill its most sacred of missions.