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Speech Pathologist Helps Impaired Veterans Regain Language Skills Cont.
A Home for Aphasia Victims
The solution, Doyle believes, is the PIRATE program, which began in January 2009. A brand new residential housing development had just opened at the Pittsburgh VA — individual townhomes in a residential setting. Those units allow the VA to provide long-term lodging for veterans in a friendly setting.
One of those townhomes is now available for stroke victims needing treatment for aphasia. The monthlong program involves six hours of care a day, five days a week, with four hours on Saturdays. With only three bedrooms, space is limited. In the last two years, 36 veterans have completed the program, with 82% of cases reporting positive outcomes.
“This really allows us to deliver our best practices,” Doyle said.
But there are still barriers. Doyle has more referrals than he can fit into the program, as clinicians across VA learn about PIRATE and send patients his way. Also, while Doyle has spent his entire career treating aphasia, and is now considered one of the pre-eminent experts on the subject, his expertise is becoming more and more of a rarity. Very few clinicians have experience working with the disorder.
“The model shifted years ago to people with more acute problems. Clinicians out in the field aren’t seeing these patients. They’re out there, but they’re being discharged within a week of their stroke,” Doyle said.
Doyle hopes word of the program’s success will spread and VA will find the space and funding to build programs similar to the one he has. “The amount of funding NIH and VA devotes to the study of aphasia compared to other diseases is miniscule, yet it has a huge and lasting impact on people’s lives and society,” Doyle explained. “It’s like an invisible impairment until you have to open your mouth and speak. Aphasia robs individuals of the very faculty they need to advocate for themselves.”
In the meantime, Doyle is doing his best to advocate for them.