Support for (healthy) troops

The Roanoke Times, September 26, 2006

COMMENTARY by Greg Rooker
(Rooker, along with his wife, is the founder of The Jason Foundation in Radford.)

The decision by the Bush administration to cut funding for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center is a moral outrage. Brain Injury is so common it has been identified by the likes of USA Today, The New York Times and NBC as the "signature wound" of the war in Iraq

More than 10 percent of our soldiers are returning with life-changing traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).

They take two main forms. Usually the most servere is induced by a direct blow, bullet or piece of shrapnel to the head. The second, and most pervasive is caused by blasts. An explosion can cause the brain to move violently inside the skull. The result is often similar to what happens to babies when they are violently shaken.

Congress has introduced legislation that would cut funding for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, which has been focused on understanding war related TBIs and treating battlefield wounded veterans who sustain a TBI in service to our country. How this came about is interesting.

The Pentagon asked Congress for $7 million for the center, cutting present funding in half. When congressional staffers tried to find out if the program needed more money, the Pentagon "did not respond" according to Jenny Manley, a spokeswoman for Senate appropriations committee. So far, Pentagon spokesmen have not responded as to why they had not sought more money.

George Zitnay, a brain injury specialist who helped found the center and still acts as a consultant for it testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee in May that the center required $19 million to keep up with the onslaught of soldiers returning from the Middle East with significant brain injuries.

The center which has two locations in Virginia, estimates up to 150,000 veterans may suffer from TBI during current conflicts. Depending on how long the war continues, that number could be higher.

In the majority of these cases, the battlefield TBI carries with it lifelong disabilities for its survivors. These range from total paralysis, loss of sight, hearing and ability to speak, to diffuse but dibilitating symtoms that may not be apparent until months after a bomb blast, which can leave veterans with festering psychological problems and unexplained anger.

Veterans Administration doctors have described TBI coupled with post traumatic stress syndrome, which often afflicts returning soldiers, as a "pretty deadly mix."

When one considers pork barrel projects that suck literally billions of dollars from the budget, this $7 million cut is especially outrageous. In light of a defense appropriations bill for the Iraq war that is likely to be upwards of $360 billion, it is appalling.

How can this administration and members of Congress claim to be "supporting the troops" while at the same time cutting funding for the signature wound of this war?

That's a question that each of us should ask ourselves.


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