Examining Issues Related To Veterans' Health Care

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Summaries of recent news related to health care for veterans appear below.

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* Brain Injuries: The New York Times on Tuesday examined how "a growing tide of combat veterans" returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have sustained "mild traumatic brain injuries, or concussions, caused by powerful explosions." According to Department of Defense estimates, up to 300,000, or 20%, of veterans who were involved in combat beyond the military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan have experienced at least one concussion. According to the Times, about half of the concussed soldiers showed improvements in their conditions "within hours, days or several months and require little if any medical assistance." However, "tens of thousands of others" have experienced long-term problems, such as dizziness, headaches, hearing problems, light sensitivity, mood swings or persistent memory loss. According to the Times, the symptoms "may be subtle and may not surface for weeks or months after their return" and often are "debilitating enough to hobble lives and livelihoods." Some veterans say that mild brain injuries have "entitled them only to low disability payments, or, if the diagnosis was inconclusive, to none at all," because of the lack of a "quantifiable diagnostic test for the injury," the Times reports. According to the Times, the guidelines that the Department of Veterans Affairs uses to rate traumatic brain injury, or TBI, are not adequately clear. Kerry Baker, associate national legislative director for Disabled American Veterans, said the VA does not rate each symptom separately from a concussion, which the agency is expected to do. Baker said, "The criteria remains ambiguous," adding, "The military way underrates TBI and its symptoms." DOD opened the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury last year and will spend $300 million on research for TBI and post-traumatic stress disorder this year, according to the Times (Alvarez, New York Times, 8/26).

* VA Services: VA is making a "strong effort" to improve and expand its health care services for veterans with PSTD and brain injuries, VA Secretary James Peake said Monday at the 14th annual San Antonio Trauma Symposium, the San Antonio Express-News reports. Peake said that the Bush administration's fiscal year 2009 budget includes a request for $93.7 billion for VA, and added that Congress is likely to "plus that up" with an additional $3 billion. VA will spend $4 billion on its mental health services and for transformation efforts, such as increasing its staff of psychologists and encouraging primary care clinics to provide mental health care services. In addition, Peake said VA has eliminated a longstanding rule that prohibited paid advertisements about the agency's suicide prevention call center. VA has begun using ads on buses and in the subway system in the Washington, D.C., area. Peake said, "We're really pushing hard at the VA to make sure we reach out," adding, "I'm actually convinced that those who need it most are the least likely to get help." He added that VA has established a PTSD research center. Peake said that PTSD includes a "spectrum" of impairment that is not understood, adding that PTSD could be an issue for all soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan (Finley, San Antonio Express-News, 8/26).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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