Weekly Columns

Caring for our Wounded Warriors

Senator John Boozman's Column for the Week of May 23, 2011

May 23 2011

The quality of care provided to our wounded servicemen and women has made amazing strides in the modern era.  As a result of advances in medicine, 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 from Iraq and Afghanistan with unprecedented severe and complex injuries.

We have a responsibility to ensure our wounded warriors have a smooth integration back into their communities.  Our servicemen and women returning from the front, especially those suffering life-altering injuries, must have everything they need to return to civilian life.

For this reason, the first piece of legislation I introduced in the Senate, The Veterans’ Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitative Services’ Improvements Act of 2011, focuses on enhancing the lives of those who have sacrificed so much for our freedoms. 

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) represents one of the most complex and potentially severe injuries incurred by service members deployed in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.   But as a result of the ambiguities in current law, TBI treatment at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) narrowly focuses care on physical restoration.

Since 2001, over 1,500 service members have suffered from a severe TBI, many of whom require rehabilitative programs ranging from total care for the most basic needs to semi-independent living support.  Currently, all they are getting from the VA is physical rehabilitation.  This approach to rehabilitation puts these wounded warriors at risk of losing any progress they make towards recovery.

This bicameral, bipartisan legislation introduced earlier this month clarifies the definition of rehabilitation so veterans will receive care that adequately addresses their physical and mental health needs, as well as quality of life and prospects for long-term recovery and success.  In other words, it’s not just about initial treatment to allow a TBI victim to recover function, but it is about a long-term plan to achieve independence and fully integrate back into their communities.

The Veterans’ Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitative Services’ Improvements Act of 2011 is a continuation of my commitment to using the power of the office to help our wounded warriors.  When I served in the House, I authored legislation to establish a grant program that encourages development of new assistive technologies that will help meet the needs of disabled veterans through the Specially Adapted Housing grants.  I strive to put my medical background to work for the benefit of our veterans.  When we saw a large increase in eye-related injuries afflicting veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, I authored language to create a Vision Center of Excellence to provide acute eye care for our troops wounded on the battlefield.

We have an obligation to the men and women who serve and sacrifice on behalf of our grateful nation.  Providing the best services to our troops who have sustained a traumatic brain injury is part of our commitment to ensure our military personnel get the care they deserve.