Greater focus needed on brain-injured vets
A crowded hearing room this week
Sen. Daniel Akaka is holding hearings in Hawaii as chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee.
in the Oahu Veterans Center provided clear evidence of deficiencies in military and veterans hospitals nationwide that desperately need improvement. As a presidential commission reported a month ago, aggressive efforts are needed to prevent brain disorders.
Traumatic brain injury wasn't even on the "checklist" in health assessments when the Army National Guard 29th Brigade returned to Hawaii from Iraq early last year, according to testimony by Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, Hawaii's adjutant general. He said soldiers now are being rescreened to detect such ailments.
The move follows an initiative announced in early July by Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich and his veterans affairs director Tammy Duckworth to routinely screen that state's National Guard members for traumatic brain injuries after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Duckworth, a graduate of McKinley High School and the University of Hawaii-Manoa, lost both her legs while piloting a Black Hawk helicopter in Iraq.
Tripler Army Medical Center only recently has begun training its military staff to recognize post-traumatic stress disorder and mild traumatic brain injury and "encourage self-reporting and referrals" of other returning soldiers, said Col. Arthur Wallace, Tripler's deputy commander of nursing. He said the staff is being increased to diagnose and treat brain-related injuries.
Last month, a commission headed by former Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas and Donna Shalala, secretary of health and human services in the Clinton administration, called for "significant changes in care management and the disability system." Special attention should be given to the invisible injuries affecting the brain, known to previous generations as "shell shock."
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