Congress is poised to slash 50% of the funding for research and treatment of soldiers with brain injuries.
Congress appears ready to slash funding for the research and treatment of brain injuries caused by bomb blasts, an injury that military scientists describe as a signature wound of the Iraq war.
House and Senate versions of the 2007 Defense appropriation bill contain $7 million for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center — half of what the center received last fiscal year.
Proponents of increased funding say they are shocked to see cuts in the treatment of bomb blast injuries in the midst of a war.
“I find it basically unpardonable that Congress is not going to provide funds to take care of our soldiers and sailors who put their lives on the line for their country,” says Martin Foil, a member of the center’s board of directors. “It blows my imagination.”
“Honestly, they would have loved to have funded it, but there were just so many priorities,” says Jenny Manley, spokeswoman for the Senate Appropriations Committee. “They didn’t have any flexibility in such a tight fiscal year.”
George Zitnay, co-founder of the center, testified before a Senate subcommittee in May that body armor saves troops caught in blasts but leaves many with brain damage. “Traumatic brain injury is the signature injury of the war on terrorism,” he testified.
Scientists at the center develop ways to diagnose and treat servicemembers who suffer brain damage. The work is done at seven military and Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals, including the center’s headquarters at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, and one civilian treatment site.
The center has clashed with the Pentagon in recent months over a program to identify troops who have suffered mild to moderate brain injuries in Iraq from mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs — the most common weapons used by insurgents.
Preliminary research by the center shows that about 10% of all troops in Iraq, and up to 20% of front line infantry troops, suffer concussions during combat tours. Many experience headaches, disturbed sleep, memory loss and behavior issues after coming home, the research shows.
The center urged the Pentagon to screen all troops returning from Iraq in order to treat symptoms and create a database of brain injury victims. Scientists say multiple concussions can cause permanent brain damage.
The Pentagon so far has declined to do the screening and argues that more research is needed.