Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

By:  Lindsey Graham
Date: June 16, 2004
Location: Washington DC


By Mr. GRAHAM of Florida:

S. 2524. A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to improve the provision of health care, rehabilitation, and related services to veterans suffering from trauma relating to a blast injury, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

Mr. GRAHAM. Mr. President, today I introduce legislation to establish a Department of Veterans Affairs War-Related Blast Injury Center. The need for this type of research and treatment facility has become especially pressing in light of the staggering number of veterans returning from the battles raging abroad.

Blasts from such weapons as artillery, mortar shells, and roadside bombs-improvised explosives that blow debris such as broken glass, nails, and gravel upward into the face-have become the most common mechanism of injury in modern warfare. The resulting injuries include those to the lungs, inner ear, limbs, and, quite commonly, the head. In addition to the serious physical wounds, deep psychological wounds also result, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

Despite the fact that injuries from explosive devices currently make up the majority of combat casualties and the most severe, there has never been an established medical program to evaluate, treat, and track the short- and long-term consequences of these specific injuries. This bill is an important first step toward correcting this deficiency. It establishes at least one War-Related Blast Injury Center within VA that would provide comprehensive and specialized rehabilitation programs, as well as targeted education and outreach programs and research initiatives.

The Center would be formed from a collaboration between the Department of Veterans Affairs, (VA) and the Department of Defense, promoting cooperation between the two agencies to reach their respective goals regarding the care of our military personnel. One of the Center's main purposes would be to fill in the gap that now exists in the evidence base for treating victims of blast injuries. Through its specialized evaluation and treatment of the polytrauma that results from blast injuries, the Center would facilitate the identification of trends in those suffering from this trauma and go a long way in determining innovative, more effective treatment approaches.

In addition to its comprehensive rehabilitation program and the conduct of research, the Center will also provide education and training to health care personnel across the care continuum, including first responders, acute-care providers, and rehabilitation staff. It will also develop improved models and systems for the furnishing of blast injury services by VA.

While my legislation does not designate a site for the Center, I mention with pride the work being done at the Tampa VA Medical Center (VAMC) in Florida. The Tampa VAMC has an exceptional Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) Service that serves the largest number of veterans in the Nation. The Spinal Cord Injury, Amputee, and Traumatic Brain Injury Programs are not only VA's largest, but they have also been recognized as providing the highest quality of care in VA by their designation as Clinical Centers of Excellence. The PM&R Service utilizes an interdisciplinary team for patient care that includes physicians, therapists, audiologists, neuropsychologists, and social workers. Among them, this wide-ranging medical staff has access to a broad spectrum of medical and support services to best treat their patients.

In addition, this outstanding hospital serves as one of seven lead centers comprising the Defense/Veterans Brain Injury Center, a cooperative treatment and research program in traumatic brain injury. It also established a Gulf War Program in 1999 and in the past year created a Blast Injury Program. For all these reasons, the Tampa VAMC would serve as an excellent site for a War-Related Blast Injury Center.

An April 2004 article in The Washington Post detailed the experiences of combat surgeons in Iraq currently caring for the heroic men and women serving there. These doctors described their experiences treating an overwhelming flow of soldiers with wounds that probably would have been fatal in previous wars. Increasingly, these wounds involve severe damage to the head and eyes and often leave soldiers brain damaged, blind, or both. This article paints a clear picture of the injuries our soldiers in Iraq are subjected to and must deal with upon their return. I ask unanimous consent that the text of The Washington Post article be printed in the RECORD following this statement.

In addition, a recent update by VA's Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation National Program Office revealed over a 60 percent increase in rehabilitation patients in 2003 compared to 2002. This means that there were 215 additional brain injury patients and 423 more amputee patients. This sizable increase speaks to the great need for the War-Related Blast Injury Center.

This past April, more than 900 soldiers and Marines were wounded in Iraq, more than twice the number wounded in October of last year, the previous high. On May 2, in a tragic event that hit close to home, 5 reservists from the Jacksonville-based Seabee battalion were killed in a mortar attack in Iraq and an additional 30 suffered injuries resulting from the blast. The Jacksonville-based Seabees were in Iraq to do humanitarian work such as fixing electrical and water systems and sewage problems. These brave men epitomized American courage and selflessness. A War-Related Blast Injury Center would serve to care for servicemembers like the Seabees who suffer this type of horrific wound.

After all that these courageous, selfless soldiers sacrifice and suffer in battle, we owe them a place where they may receive the treatment necessary to mend their wounds, both physical and mental.

I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.

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