Characterizing the human brain as a "magical, awesome, but fragile organ," ASHA Past President Paul Rao pitched the importance of rehabilitation services after traumatic brain injury (TBI) to a room full of congressional staffers at a Sept. 18 briefing hosted by ASHA, the American Occupational Therapy Association, and the American Physical Therapy Association.
When the brain is "damaged by a bullet or a football injury or a fall, the patient needs rehab to become more independent, to resume participating in his or her community, and to seek an improved quality of life post-trauma," said Rao, vice president of inpatient operations and compliance at Medstar National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C.
The briefing was part of the three organizations' efforts to help address the health care needs of returning U.S. troops through Joining Forces, a White House initiative to serve America's military families. As a member of the initiative, ASHA unites with other nonmilitary medical organizations to increase members' awareness of the unique medical needs of troops returning home from overseas deployments.
Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), ranking member on the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health, sponsored the briefing—"Therapy and Traumatic Brain Injury"—to educate congressional staffers about how physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology are helping wounded warriors and veterans recover, rehabilitate, and reintegrate.
Rao and other presenters emphasized the cost savings of preventing TBI and providing treatment in the acute and post-acute TBI periods to avoid the long-term costs of institutionalization or dependency.
At the briefing, Rao cited statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating that 5.3 million Americans—approximately 2% of the U.S. population—have a long-term or lifelong need for help to perform activities of daily living as a result of a TBI.
"TBI can also have a devastating impact on communication, cognition, and swallowing that can result in a staggering impact on one's emotional, vocational, and/or social well-being," he said. "It is sometimes said the TBI is a silent epidemic...there are often no outward signs, and a victim may possess his or her physical abilities but still have a drastic reduction in the ability to perform some of life's most basic daily living skills."
Joining Forces was created specifically to emphasize the conditions that may not be evident when the service member first returns from overseas: mild
TBI, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression.
Joining Forces' series of four 30-minute videos is designed to help health care providers understand the experiences of overseas troops and their families and to provide guidance on discussing those experiences with them. The videos focus on the general experience of overseas deployment, returning home, and reintegration into civilian life; an overview of the health-related issues of soldiers and their families; PTSD; and mild TBI.
The initiative includes more than 30 organizations, representing physicians, nurses, social workers, counselors, physician assistants, medical schools, dentists, psychologists, physical therapists, surgeons, and other health-related groups. Members have committed to:
- Educate members on how to recognize PTSD, TBI, and post-combat depression.
- Partner with other public and private organizations to share educational and training resources.
- Focus on veteran care at annual conferences.
- Develop or highlight existing educational and referral resources.
- Use technology to connect experienced professionals with those who have not been trained or educated on PTSD/TBI or post-combat depression recognition/treatment regimens.
A speaker from the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury will present a session on TBI, PTSD, and depression in returning soldiers at ASHA's 2013 Health Care/Business Institute, scheduled for April 27–28 in Orlando.
For more information, contact Janet Brown, MA, CCC-SLP, director of health care services in speech-language pathology, at firstname.lastname@example.org.