We were pleased to see the U.S. House, once again, approve an amendment to a bill that would expedite innovative treatments for military veterans and active-duty soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. Now it is time for the Senate to do the same.
The action would allow those suffering from serious brain maladies to obtain new treatment techniques from private sources when such treatments are not offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
North Bay Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, has been one of the prime forces behind this amendment. Thompson, who was wounded during a combat tour in Vietnam, is the co-chairman of the bipartisan Military Veterans Caucus. He teamed with Republican colleague Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas to shepherd the amendment through a successful House vote twice.
Back in May, the amendment was successfully attached to the National Defense Authorization Act, but the Senate failed to act on it, so last week Thompson and Sessions managed to get the treatment-expansion initiative tacked on to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act.
As Thompson explained to us, the premise behind the amendment is that our brain-injured soldiers deserve the best treatment possible, but sometimes that treatment lies outside of the federal system. He cited the Pathway Home in Yountville and an excellent program at Kaiser Martinez as examples.
His legislation could make that treatment available to those soldiers who desperately need it.
The incredible stress of fighting two wars for nearly 10 years has dramatically increased the number of soldiers who need such treatment. In the last 11 years, more than 230,000 service members have been diagnosed with TBI and up to 18 percent of U.S. military personnel returning from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD symptoms.
None of this comes as a surprise to the family members of those returning from combat, but the numbers are testament that this is no small problem.
This amendment will not fix things overnight, but it will provide a good first step. The legislation is done thoughtfully as it creates a new five year, $10 million pilot project.
Under the plan, innovative doctors and treatment centers may qualify for payment from the federal government. The interesting caveat here is that the project is a "pay-for-performance" plan, which means that before receiving payment, the doctors or treatment center must demonstrate through accepted medical assessment tools and metrics that a patient has improved. That is designed to ensure the government is only paying for treatment methods that actually work.
What a concept. Wouldn't it be nice if the entire federal bureaucracy operated on that premise.
Thompson says that the long-term end game is to incorporate the successful best practices into the military's hospitals. The treatment initiative is a small amount of money and it sunsets in five years. It also requires an annual report to Congress and a report on how each department secretary plans to integrate successful methods into their own medical facilities.
Frankly, we believe that the country must get serious about this issue and passage of this legislation is a good first step.