Come September, recovering veterans in at least 20 states could be booted from a pilot program for traumatic brain injury—not because of personal medical progress, but because of the nation’s lawmakers.
Despite bipartisan support, Congress has not been able to pass an extension of the rehabilitation program. Since last fall, the extension has been attached to several pieces of veterans legislation, which failed after lawmakers were unable to agree on military and VA reforms.
“If we don’t extend it, veterans…across the country will be ejected from the care they’re going to be getting, which would constitute, in my mind, a premature discharge,” said Susan Connors, the president of the Brain Injury Association of America. “Families feel like this has been a lifeline.”
Now the VA has halted new patient admissions and informed health-care providers that it plans to discharge veterans by September 15, Connors said.
The program currently is offering more than 100 veterans the opportunity to receive treatment for traumatic brain injuries in assisted living facilities, where they get therapy for their memory, movement, speech, and community reintegration. They also relearn simple tasks, such as how to cook, make a bed, and go to the grocery store. About half of these veterans were involved in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while the rest are from previous generations. Eighty-four vets already have transitioned successfully through the program.
“With traumatic brain injury, many of them are struggling to do the basics,” said Joy Ilem, deputy national legislative director of Disabled American Veterans. “The pilot [program] seemed to really offer them the type of environment that worked on a number of things they might have struggled with.”
Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Dean Heller (R-NV) recently introduced bipartisan legislation that would extend the VA program for three years at a cost of $46 million.
“The VA has indicated that preliminary outcomes from the AL-TBI pilot indicate significant positive changes in general health, activity tolerance, and social activities of veterans with moderate to severe [traumatic brain injuries]—a condition that is notoriously difficult to treat,” said a Booker aide.
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