Thursday, January 27, 2011

Are soldiers with brain injuries being denied treatment that Giffords will be getting?

Rep. Giffords Could Receive Brain Injury Treatment Denied To Thousands of Troops

As Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords begins rehabilitative therapy in Houston after being shot in the head in Tucson earlier this month, she was transferred today to TIRR Memorial Hermann, a premier rehabilitation hospital renowned for its treatment of traumatic brain injuries, reports Marian Wang of ProPublica.

On its website, the hospital calls itself “one of very few hospitals in the country designated as a model system for traumatic brain injury.” Among the techniques it relies on is cognitive rehabilitation therapy, a tailored type of medical treatment designed to retrain the brain to do basic tasks.

It’s a treatment that Rep. Giffords will likely end up receiving, if doctors’ general descriptions of her care plan are any indication. Dr. John Holcomb, a retired Army colonel and trauma surgeon at Memorial Hermann, has described Giffords’ treatment as a “tailored and comprehensive rehab plan” that includes “speech, cognitive, physical rehabilitation.”

If Giffords does end up receiving it, she’ll be getting a treatment that many troops don’t. As we’ve reported, the Pentagon’s health program, Tricare, has refused to cover cognitive rehabilitation therapy for the tens of thousands of service members who have suffered brain injuries in the line of duty. Tricare, which provides insurance-style coverage to troops and many veterans, does cover speech and occupational therapy, which are often part of cognitive rehabilitation.

We’ve called the hospital to get further details about Giffords’ treatment plan but have not yet received that information. News reports have described her treatment as using “high-tech tools topush the brain to rewire itself,” with a focus on her physical abilities, speech, vision, cognitive skills and behavior.

Traumatic brain injuries have different types and levels of severity, according to the Office of the Surgeon General. They can include penetrating injuries—like Giffords’—or mild brain traumalike the kind often sustained by troops in an explosion. The latter, as we’ve reported, has been called one of the signature wounds of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and tens of thousands of caseshave been left undiagnosed by the military’s medical system.

Though top brain specialists have endorsed cognitive rehabilitation as an effective treatment for brain injury, Tricare officials have said that scientific evidence does not justify providing it comprehensively to troops.


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