The signature injury to our brave soldiers fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is traumatic brain injury, which is often the result of blast waves from roadside bombs. Studies suggest that as many as 15% of blast victims go on to suffer long-term cognitive problems. All Americans should agree that the soldiers who risked their lives for their country and came home with traumatic brain damage deserve cognitive rehabilitation therapy to help them achieve the best possible recovery. Shockingly, after nearly a decade at war there is still no good plan to treat these wounded warriors.
Last month, the Pentagon sent a letter to Congress in response to members’ concerns about the medical treatment of soldiers who suffered brain injuries in the war on terror. The letter from George Peach Taylor, Jr., acting assistant defense secretary for health, told Congress that the military was still studying the efficacy of cognitive rehabilitation therapy, which is a lengthy program designed to retrain victims of traumatic brain injury to do activities of daily living, which, due to their brain damage, they can no longer do. Examples include remembering tasks, recalling words, and recalling names. The letter also reports that the military’s health plan for troops and other vets, Tricare, does not covery cognitive rehabilitation. Tricare justifies its unpatriotic denial of coverage by citing work done by a contractor hired by Tricare which claims to have found limited evidence that cognitive rehab works.
Leading brain injury specialists have cried BS and criticized the Tricare study as deeply flawed and unacceptable. One expert stated the obvious, calling the Tricare study a “misuse” of science designed to hold down costs by depriving soldiers of care. Critics also note that Aetna and Humana already cover the treatment, and that the Pentagon’s own panel of experts convened more than a decade ago by the Institues for Medicine recommended its use. I’ll bet that the health plan that we pay for for members of Congress covers this therapy. Make it know to your Congressional representatives that our soldiers deserve the same, if not better, coverage.