Consider Illinois model for screening guardsmen
Illinois has begun a program to screen its National Guard members for traumatic brain injuries incurred in Iraq or Afghanistan.
HAWAII legislators should take note of an initiative announced this week by Illinois' governor and Hawaii-reared director of veterans affairs to routinely screen the state's National Guard members for traumatic brain injuries after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Recent reports indicate that Guard members have been receiving secondary care by the Veterans Administration.
"It's been shown that the federal government simply was not prepared to deal with the number of war injured coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan," said Illinois veterans affairs director Tammy Duckworth, a graduate of McKinley High School and the University of Hawaii-Manoa who lost both her legs while piloting a Blackhawk helicopter in Iraq.
More than half of Hawaii's 5,500 members of the state's Army and Air Force National Guards have been activated since the U.S. took military action in the Middle East.
"Some soldiers come home with wounds that can't be seen," Duckworth told Dan Rather in his inaugural HDNet program last November. Duckworth, a Democrat, was barely defeated last year in her bid for Congress in a heavily Republican Illinois district.
Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich said the first-of-its-kind program will screen every returning Illinois National Guard member for traumatic brain injuries, which afflict 14 percent to 20 percent of military service members. The program is aimed at catching the milder form of brain injuries that might not be detected by mandatory screening conducted by the VA.
Returning guardsmen might be more vulnerable to having undetected brain injuries. Annual disability payments from the VA last year averaged $4,962 for active duty soldiers and $3,603 for Guard and Reserve members.
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