Dr. Boozman's Check-up

We wrote this for The Hill to highlight our continued efforts to develop new ways to improve  health care for our military personnel and veterans.

Veterans deserve innovative care

By Sen. John Boozman 

Our United States Armed Forces always answer when called on to defend our nation and the American people. With every new assignment, our men and women in uniform face unique challenges; as does our nation in caring for their needs.

During a visit to Landstuhl Air Base in Germany, I spoke with one soldier who had just sustained life-altering injuries. His first question was “Will I ever walk again?” Because of the advances in medicine and technology, I was able to answer with a confident “yes.” 

Service members are returning home today from combat having survived catastrophic attacks that would have claimed their lives in previous conflicts. While this is great news, it also means that more men and women are returning with unprecedented injuries and we are diligently treating all types of wounds.

This requires a collective effort between patients, doctors, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and Congress. This unified goal has produced results. 

It became apparent to service members and physicians that we needed to improve eye care when military personnel were showing similar symptoms. As an eye care provider, I joined ophthalmologists and optometrists to solve this problem and introduced the Military Eye Trauma Treatment Act. This legislation created the Vision Center of Excellence (VCE) — a Department of Defense and VA partnership to ensure that our troops who have sustained eye-related injuries receive the best practices and treatment possible.

Impaired vision can be an overlooked side effect of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Since 2000 more than 273,000 service members have suffered from some form of TBI. Some require rehabilitative services while those with the most severe cases need help caring for their basic needs. As we continue to enhance and upgrade care, we can see where there is room for improvement. 

Last Congress I introduced legislation to advance rehabilitation for TBI to encompass comprehensive care that includes physical and mental health needs as well as striving for long-term recovery and improving the quality of life. Fortunately, this legislation was passed as part of a broader veterans’ benefits bill. 

More than 80 percent of TBI is classified as mild, but we have a responsibility to provide services for these invisible injuries. New and innovative methods are empowering our wounded warriors, and organizations are joining in the fight to help veterans live fulfilling lives despite the challenges of TBI, post-traumatic stress disorder and other catastrophic injuries. 

Outdoor and recreational based therapy, like Rivers of Recovery, has proven successful at helping veterans who have been physically and psychologically injured during military service. This unique program takes advantage of self-awareness, meditation and other techniques through the medium of fishing. Anything that we can do to speed-up their recovery is a step worth taking. 

We are blessed to have great partners who provide their expertise on this road to recovery as we find alternative approaches to medicine and rehabilitation. The United States Olympic Committee Paralympic Military and Veteran Programs make a big impact on the quality of life for thousands of injured military personnel and veterans with its adaptive sports program. I encourage my colleagues to continue this program that has made a dramatic impact on the health of our wounded warriors. Congress should reauthorize this program so it can continue to provide our service members and veterans with this rehabilitation opportunity and improve their quality of life. 

American citizens have been inspired and united by the courage of the men and women fighting the War on Terror. The challenges of the landscape and fighting by insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq forced us to devise innovative methods of combat. We must be equally innovative while seeking ways to assist and empower service members during their recovery from the injuries and challenges they face once they leave the battlefield. 

As the son of a master sergeant in the Air Force, I am familiar with the sacrifices of troops and their families that don’t end when these brave men and women return home. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, our men and women in uniform have faced new and unique injuries and we, in turn, are constantly updating and revising the ways we address healthcare for our active duty military and the needs of our veterans. We have made remarkable progress but we can’t forget the fundamentals. The VA and Congress need to continue to address the claims backlog and improve access to services so we can honor our commitment to help heal the wounds of war and fully integrate these warriors back into the community.

Boozman is the junior senator from Arkansas, elected in 2010. He sits on the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, as well as the Appropriations, the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, and the Environment and Public Works committees.