It's been estimated that since 2001, more than 1,500 service members fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), the signature injury from explosive blasts.
A bill sponsored by Minnesota First District Rep. Tim Walz that passed the House last week and is headed to President Obama's desk expands treatment models used for the injuries by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The bill requires the VA to adopt what Walz, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, calls a more holistic approach to treating veterans with TBI.
"It broadens the scope of what needs to be offered by the VA," Walz said. "If they did everything they could to get a veteran back on his feet and somewhat mobile, they took it like that was the end of it. In many cases the families were left to believe that there were other things that could have been done that would have moved this veteran back to full rehabilitation."
Walz's measure takes into account physical restoration, mental health, independence and quality of life. It would also help veterans in maintaining the gains they have made during initial phases of treatment by requiring the VA to develop rehabilitation plans that stress long-term improvement.
Battlefield medicine has allowed injured service members who might otherwise have died to survive, meaning they are returning with unprecedented severe and complex injuries. Many who have suffered from a severe TBI will require programs ranging from total care for the most basic needs to semi-independent living.
Walz said it requires the VA to work within its budget to meet the demands of his legislation.
"These are going to be horrifically expensive injuries, and in some cases this rehabilitation is going to be off and on for this veteran," Walz said. "I would argue that the cost of war and those decisions in 2001 and 2002, you have to take these into consideration."
Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434