Durbin, Murray, Obama Introduce Bill to Update Treatment of Traumatic Brain Injury for Military
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced legislation, yesterday evening, to improve the care of veterans and service members suffering from traumatic brain injuries (TBI). The bipartisan Military and Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment Act would establish a program within the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Veteran Affairs (VA) that would provide individualized services, improve coordination between the two agencies, require routine brain injury screening tests for military personnel, increase TBI patient benefits, improve case oversight and expand TBI research in the Defense Department and the VA.
"Too many of our brave service men and women are coming home from war with serious injuries that may be overlooked because they don't bear any visible wounds or scars," Durbin said. "We owe them the best treatment and support, while learning more about these injuries and their treatment. With that knowledge, we can moderate the impact TBI has on the lives of our veterans and their families."
Last year, Senator Durbin introduced an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization bill that allocated an additional $12 million to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, providing the center a total of $19 million for Fiscal Year 2007. That authorization was included in the Omnibus Appropriations bill this January, at Senator Durbin's urging. That amendment as well as this bill has been endorsed by Veterans for America.
Joining Durbin as cosponsors of the bill are Senators John Warner (R-VA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Barack Obama (D-IL), James Webb (D-VA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA).
Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), an original cosponsor of the bill said:
"TBI has clearly emerged as the signature injury of the War in Iraq. Unfortunately, the response to treating and understanding it has lagged, leaving our veterans and their families searching for answers. This bill makes TBI research, benefits, and coordination top priorities at the DOD and VA. It also requires routine screening - a critical step toward ensuring that service members with TBI don't slip through the cracks."
"Troubling recent reports have made clear that a high percentage of service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from mental health problems and traumatic brain injuries, to say nothing of those who are going undiagnosed and falling through the cracks," said Senator Obama. "As we prepare our nation to assist the generation of service members returning home from war, we must implement comprehensive reforms that provide early detection, treatment and counseling for those with traumatic brain injuries. Providing the best treatment for our service members is one thing about this war we can still get right."
Durbin's bill addresses the following issues:
* Standard of Care - The act will establish a Traumatic Brain Injury Program, run by DOD and the VA, to provide treatment and rehabilitation to service members and veterans who have suffered a service-connected traumatic brain injury. It will provide a clear standard ensuring that every service member and veteran suffering a traumatic brain injury will receive the services that best meet their individual needs.
* Screening - DOD will be required to develop and administer a standardized cognitive pre-test to be administered to all military personnel prior to deployment and upon return from deployment to determine if possible brain injury exists. The act will also require DOD and the VA to conduct outreach to advise service members and veterans about the TBI Program, their rights and responsibilities, treatment and rehabilitation options and the availability of screening.
* Case Management and Health Care Services - Inefficiencies in case management as well as the complex nature of care required by TBI patients has led to patient and family confusion, contradictory guidance and treatment, and a number of instances in which patients did not receive proper care. This act directs DOD and the VA to assign each patient a lead case manager to ease the stress on patient and family, facilitate navigation through the DoD and VA systems, ensure adequate care is being provided, prevent duplication of efforts, and avoid contradictory guidance. Additionally, DOD and the VA must assign each patient a lead primary care physician to coordinate and oversee the care provided to the participant, including all treatment, rehabilitation, and medications.
* Overlap of Benefits - To ensure members receive the best care and rehabilitation available, all participants enrolled in the program shall, for the first two years, receive any of the benefits available to veterans and to active duty members, regardless of their active duty status.
* Patients' Rights - DOD and the VA must also make available an appeals process to challenge any failure to provide the standard of care required in the TBI Program. They must also provide a referral to a medical professional outside of the DOD and VA when requested by a TBI patient.
Traumatic brain injury is the signature injury of the Iraq war. The widespread use of improvised explosive devices (IED's) has created thousands of TBI victims, sometimes with no other visible signs of injury. The concussions from IED explosion cause sudden, violent head movements which often lead to a TBI. With symptoms similar to that of shaken baby syndrome, TBI's are difficult to diagnose. Injured service members may suffer from headaches, confusion, dizziness and lightheadedness in mild cases, to mood changes, loss of memory, convulsions, weakness or numbness in the extremities, and loss of coordination in more severe cases.