By Sandra Basu
WASHINGTON – Lawmakers are calling for the reauthorization of legislation to help traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients and their families access rehabilitation, long-term care and community support .
The legislation, known as the Traumatic Brain Injury Act, first passed Congress in 1996, and authorizes certain Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) programs administered by the national Centers for Disease Control (CDC), National Institutes of Health and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) related to TBI and trauma research.
“In the last few years, we have learned more about the brain than we have over the last century,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ) who co-chairs the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force and is reintroducing the legislation. “This knowledge should be applied to protect our fellow Americans. The current TBI authorization will elevate the TBI program within [HHS].”
Susan Connors, president and chief executive officer of the Brain Injury Association of America, told U.S. Medicine, that while the legislation does not specifically fund DoD or VA programs, veterans with TBI can still benefit from the act.
Not only does the NIH research funded through this legislation have the potential to help all individuals with TBI, civilian or military, it also funds HRSA grants to assist states in developing and expanding service delivery capacity for those with TBI and their families. It also funds HRSA grants for the Protection and Advocacy for Traumatic Brain Injury program, which provides advocacy services for people with TBI.
“There are pieces, particularly the state grant programs and the state protection and advocacy program, that down at the state and local level give them the authority and funding to reach out to retired military,” she said.
The introduction of reauthorization legislation was part of a day-long annual event on Capitol Hill known as Brain Injury Awareness Day. The event gave advocates an opportunity to not only shed light on problem among civilians as well as returning troops.
“From 2000 to 2012, 266,810 TBIs have been sustained in our servicemembers. Of those, over 80% are mild TBI or concussion. Also over 80% are not happening in the deployed setting, but actually back at home in garrison,” Col. Jamie Grimes, MD, national director for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, said during a panel discussion.
Grimes said that what has been a “game changer” in DoD has been a mandated procedure for how concussions should be managed in theater. That instruction was developed in 2010 and outlines specific scenarios in which mandatory medical screening must be conducted in theater for troops exposed to potentially concussive events.
Also speaking was Ralph Ibsen, national policy director for the Wounded Warrior Project. He spoke of his organization’s interest in ensuring the full implementation of the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012, which expands individualized rehabilitation and reintegration services to veterans with TBI in addition to its primary purpose of helping veterans and families harmed by contaminated water at the North Carolina base.
“VA is required by law to provide rehabilitative care to those who need it. What this provision does is redefine that term to make it clear that rehabilitation doesn’t end when progress slows or stops lest there be loss of functional gains that have been achieved, and it goes a step further and requires that VA provides community-based services,” he said.
The event was held the same week that General Electric (GE) and the National Football League (NFL) announced the Head Health Initiative, a four-year, $60 million collaboration aimed at speeding diagnosis and improving mTBI treatment.
That initiative includes a four-year, $40 million research and development program to evaluate and develop imaging technologies to improve mTBI diagnosis. In addition as part of the project, the NFL, GE and Under Armour, an athletic equipment merchandiser, launched a two-year open innovation challenge to invest up to $20 million in research and technology to better understand, diagnose and protect against mild traumatic brain injury. Military experts will have a role in furthering the research in both these projects.
During the panel discussion, Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president of public affairs, said that partnerships with the military and other entities will further brain injury research.
“When you are the NFL and you line up next to these partners and these public and private partners are willing to line up next to you…to address these difficult issues, you know you are headed in the right direction,” he said.