NEW LEGISLATION WOULD CREATE SIX EPILEPSY CENTERS FOR THE VA
U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Larry Craig (R-ID) today announced joint legislation to establish six Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Epilepsy Centers of Excellence across the country. Murray, a key member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and Craig, the top Republican member, teamed up to write the bill to ensure that the VA is prepared and equipped to deal with one possible long-term impact of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) - the occurrence of epilepsy.
The Murray-Craig bill authorizes $6 million annually for the Epilepsy Centers of Excellence to support clinical, research and education efforts surrounding the incidence of epilepsy among current and future veterans with head and brain injuries.
"As we have seen with conflicts ranging from World War I to Vietnam, and even the first Gulf War, many injuries associated with military service can take months, years or even decades to develop. As we continue to learn more about TBI, the signature wound of the current conflict in Iraq, we need to anticipate the long-term impact of these injuries," Senator Murray said. "When dealing with severe brain trauma it is important that the VA learn as much as possible about the signs and impacts of these devastating injuries and our proposed Epilepsy Centers of Excellence provide that opportunity."
"Experts have indicated that half of all Vietnam veterans who suffered penetrating brain injuries suffer from what is known as 'post-traumatic epilepsy' many years down the line. While there is no evidence yet as to the impact of TBI-induced epilepsy from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, this bill will ensure that we are prepared for that possibility," Senator Craig said.
At a May hearing, Dr. John Booss, MD,, testified before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee about TBI on behalf of the American Academy of Neurology.
Booss told Murray, Craig and the other Senators that VA-funded research, conducted in collaboration with the Department of Defense, found that 53 percent of veterans who suffered a penetrating TBI in Vietnam developed epilepsy within 15 years. For these service-connected veterans, the relative risk for developing epilepsy more than 10 to 15 years after their injury was 25 times higher than non-veterans in the same age group.
"Indeed, 15 percent did not manifest epilepsy until five or more years after their combat injury. As neurologists, we believe that the rate of epilepsy from blast TBI will also be high," Booss said.
The Murray-Craig bill would require the designation of the Epilepsy Centers of Excellence within 120 days after enactment. The locations of the centers would be determined by the VA Secretary, upon recommendation of the Under Secretary for Health based upon a competitive process to assess the scientific and clinical merit of the proposals from VA medical facilities. The review panel is to be assembled by the VA Director of Neurology and consist of experts in epilepsy, including post-traumatic epilepsy. The VA Director of Neurology will be responsible for supervising the operation of the Centers and shall provide ongoing evaluation of the Centers.