By Guest Blogger Adam Anicich, Deputy Director for Legislative Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and PolyTrauma/Blast-Related Injury Executive Committee Member for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
What do you plan to do with your life? Now ask yourself, what do you plan to do with your life after a traumatic injury?
The invisible wounds of Iraq and Afghanistan afflict hundreds of thousands of Service Members. Our veterans are returning home with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and various other injuries. Many times, their lives take a dramatic turn after they are injured in service.
When speaking to Congress, I regularly use this anecdote to describe the lifelong commitment the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has with America’s veterans: When a 20-year-old Service Member is injured in Iraq, he or she may receive acute treatment and rehab at Walter Reed for a year – maybe 18 months – and then, they are transferred into VA’s system of care – for the next 70 years! As VA’s PolyTrauma or counseling teams begin working with the Veteran, there is almost always a noticeable and measurable improvement in patient outcome. This improvement is a combination of patient engagement, the excellent providers at VAs across the country and the vast array of effective tools and research VA has at its disposal.
As the majority of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan draw to a close, fewer and fewer Service Members are newly entering treatment for traumatic injuries. Many veterans have been involved in their own care and recovery for months or years by now and have made substantial progress; but they may no longer see the noticeable improvement in cognitive function, memory or other outcomes as they once did in the beginning of their treatment. I call this “TBI Plateauing.”