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Wilson Wants to Improve Treatment for Blind Veterans

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

Wilson Wants to Improve Treatment for Blind Veterans

Congresswoman Heather Wilson this week introduced a bill to improve the care of American troops affected by combat eye trauma.

H.R. 3558, the "Military Eye Trauma Treatment Act of 2007," would create a Center of Excellence within the Department of Defense specifically devoted to the prevention, diagnosis, mitigation, treatment, and rehabilitation of military eye injuries.

Rep. introduced the bill with Rep. John Boozman (R-AK). A bipartisan group of Members have already signed on to the Boozman-Wilson bill, including: Rep. John Hall (D-NY), Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV), Rep. Marion Berry (D-AR), Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Rep. Robert Brady (D-PA), Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA), Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), Rep. Robin Hayes (R-NC), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), and Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL).

"It's really important for the Pentagon and the VA to coordinate care for returning soldiers with eye injuries," says Wilson. "These are common injuries on the battlefield, and we can improve the care we provide our soldiers and veterans."

Members of the Blinded Veterans of America approached Wilson and Rep. Boozman, an optometrist, recently and asked them to introduce the measure in the U.S. House.

Serious combat eye trauma from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom has climbed to the third most common injury from these wars only behind post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. The Department of Defense has no central center that tracks these injuries, but reports show that 13% of all combat surgical hospital emergency operative procedures in Iraq were for severe combat eye penetrating wounds.

The legislation would create a Military Eye Trauma Center of Excellence within DOD to improve the tracking, diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up for service members who experience eye injuries. The legislation would require the Eye Trauma Center to coordinate its efforts with the VA, universities, and other entities; and to provide electronic information sharing with the VA. The legislation would improve screening, diagnosis, rehabilitative management, and vision research on visual dysfunction related to traumatic brain injury (TBI) by requiring a joint DOD-VA cooperative study on this issue.

In Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, the weapons used by our enemies have caused significant damage to the vision of many U.S. soldiers, particularly when soldiers are victims of sophisticated roadside bombs. Data compiled by the Defense Department between March 2003 and April 2005 reported that 16 % of all casualties evacuated from Iraq had associated eye injuries. Walter Red Army Medical Center has treated approximately 506 service members with either moderate to severe vision injuries. Furthermore, the National Naval Medical Center has approximately 450 eye injuries requiring surgery.

Serious Combat Eye Trauma from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom has climbed to the third most common injury from these wars only behind PTSD and TBI.

Between October 2001 and June 2006, over 1,000 service members with combat eye trauma were evacuated from overseas military operations. Many combat eye injuries require multiple surgical procedures and treatments at several facilities.

Additionally, there are over 1 million low-vision veterans in the U.S. and the incidences of blindness among the total veteran population of 24 million are expected to increase by 40% over the next two decades.

Provisions of Wilson's legislation:

· The legislation would create the Center of Excellence in Prevention, Diagnosis, Mitigation, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Military Eye Injuries to be established by the Secretary of Defense.

· The Center would be required to collaborate with the Department of Veterans affairs, institutions of higher education and other appropriate public and private entities.

· The center would develop, implement and oversee a registry of information for the tracking of the diagnosis, surgical intervention or other operative procedure, other treatment, and follow up for each case of eye injury incurred fighting in OIF or OEF.

· Information gathered through this registry would help in research and for the development of best practices and clinical education incurred during combat.

· Access to the registry would assist physicians in following these service members who are at risk.
· Access to the registry would assist physicians in following these service members for various complications of retinal detachments, traumatic cataracts, corneal decompensation, post operative glaucoma if the records of these eye injured are in central eye trauma registry where ophthalmologists and optometrists are able to access these surgical records.

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