Sanders calls attention to veteran traumatic brain injuries

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(Host) Senator Bernie Sanders is calling attention to a dramatic increase in traumatic brain injury among war veterans.

Sanders says as many as 10% of the troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from the head injuries.

But he says the budget proposed by President Bush eliminates funding for treatment.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The epidemic of brain injuries stems from the kind of urban and guerilla war U-S soldiers are now fighting. Attacks with IEDs, improvised explosive devices, have left thousands injured.

Yet it’s sometimes difficult to differentiate between the injuries caused by bombs, and the psychological stress suffered by soldiers at war.

Dr. Andrew Pomerantz is chief of the mental health and behavioral science at the Veterans Administration Hospital in White River Junction.

(Pomerantz) “The problem gets to be fairly serious when they get back home. And a lot of the symptoms of traumatic brain injury — particularly mild traumatic brain injury – are very similar to the kinds of symptoms that come from post traumatic stress disorder, the stress of re-adjustment in general, irritability, some impulsiveness, poor judgment, things that really strain one’s social and occupational roles.”

(Dillon) The treatment of the two conditions is different, so VA doctors are researching ways to diagnose the two disorders.

The VA is trying to screen all soldiers returning to Vermont in order to do a better job of identifying the injuries.

Gary DeGasta heads the VA Medical Center in White River Junction. He says any returning veterans gets two years of free health care through the VA system.

(DeGasta) “We’ve reached out not only to Guard members, but to the families but to the community and the like. We’ve probably have 1,500 individuals at this particular point in time give or take that have now taken advantage of that are enrolled in VA health care.”

(Dillon) Sanders says that despite the dramatic surge in brain injuries, the military health care health care system lacks the funds needed to treat them.

(Sanders) “What I am concerned about, especially with people in the National Guard, with some of these guys who never expected to be in Iraq in the first place in a hot and terrible war are going to return to Enosburg Falls, they’re going to return to Franklin County, they’re not going to feel well, and they’re not going to know where to go, they’re not going to know what kinds of treatments are available and the help that’s available to them and their families.”

(Dillon) Sanders says the budget proposed by the Bush Administration cuts funding for the injuries.

Sanders is a member of the Senate Budget Committee. He says a majority of the committee supports a $303 million dollar increase to treat traumatic brain injuries.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Burlington.

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