The House of Representatives has approved a proposal authored by Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) to improve spinal cord injury treatment. Passed as part of the annual bill that funds defense programs (H.R. 5856, the FY 2013 Defense Department Appropriations Act), Langevin's amendment adds $15 million to the Spinal Cord Injury Research Program. This measure increases the total amount allocated to the program for Fiscal Year 2013 to about $30 million after severe cuts to the initiative in the years since its inception.
This effort continues work by Langevin, who is the first quadriplegic to serve in Congress and co-chairs the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus, to ensure all individuals with disabilities have the opportunity to reach their full potential. Last month, the United Spinal Association honored him with its first Junius A. Kellogg Outstanding Congressional Leadership Award.
"Spinal cord injuries are a serious combat-related condition affecting many of our servicemen and women," said Langevin on the House Floor, explaining the importance of the program's creation in 2009 to support research into regenerating and repairing damaged spinal cords and improve rehabilitative therapies.
"More than 30 years ago, when I was first injured with a spinal cord injury, I was told that I would never walk again and you just can't repair a spinal cord. Well now some 30 years later, we know that is not accurate and, in fact, it's no longer a question of if we can repair spinal cords, but when."
The increased funding, which is fully paid-for by a reduction in operations and maintenance funding, would coincide with an opportunity to capitalize on recent scientific advances. Last year, a paraplegic man in Kentucky was able to stand on his own with the help of an implanted "pacemaker-like" device and rehabilitation. In the United Kingdom, researchers have produced a treatment that has allowed rats to walk, run and climb stairs after suffering serious spinal cord injuries.
"This and other research provides real hope to our military service members and veterans who have suffered severe nervous system damage while defending our freedoms, as well as the 1.275 million Americans estimated to be paralyzed as the result of a spinal cord injury," said Langevin in his remarks. "But without sufficient funding, these therapies will not be able to undergo further development or clinical trials.
"The research is real and shows incredible promise. There is a genuine and exciting possibility that we can soon repair these debilitating injuries that affect so many. I believe that we must make sure that momentum is not lost and that the benefits of decades of research into spinal cord injury are realized."
Specifically, Langevin's measure would add $15 million to RDT&E (Research Development Test & Evaluation) in the Defense Health Program for the purpose of augmenting the Spinal Cord Injury Research Program (SCIRP) within the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program. In Fiscal Year 2009, SCIRP received $35 million, but in subsequent years that level was reduced significantly to $11.25 million in FY 2010, $12 million in FY 2011 and just $9.6 million in FY 2012. This decline has risked researchers' ability to continue to progress.
According to a study by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, approximately 5.6 million people report some form of paralysis, over 1 million of whom are paralyzed as the result of a spinal-cord injury. Because spinal cord injuries predominantly occur in people under the age of 30, including military service members, the human cost is high. Major improvements in emergency and acute care have improved survival rates but have also increased the numbers of individuals who have to cope with severe, chronic disabilities. The societal cost, in terms of health care, disability payments, and lost income, is disproportionately high compared to other medical conditions.