Chairman Michaud, Ranking Member Miller and members of the subcommittee, my name is Dr. Debra Braunling-McMorrow. I am a licensed clinical psychologist and am the Vice President of Acquired Brain Injury Service Diversification for The MENTOR Network. Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony today.
The MENTOR Network is proud to be the largest, most diversified, and experienced provider of after hospital rehabilitation and support services for individuals with Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) in the United States. We currently offer specialized Neurorehabilitation, Neurobehavioral, and long-term Supported Living services in 13 states, including Illinois, Florida, Tennessee and Massachusetts.
Many of our TBI services are an outgrowth of the Center for Comprehensive Services (CCS), a partner of The MENTOR Network. CCS, based in Carbondale, Illinois, is a nationally recognized, post-acute brain injury rehabilitation program that was founded in 1977. It is widely recognized as the first of its kind in the United States and is noted for its innovative services and ability to help participants achieve life-altering outcomes and remarkable levels of recovery.
As you know, Traumatic Brain Injury is the signature injury of the war in Iraq, primarily due to the number of blast injuries that have occurred from improvised explosive devices. Estimates suggest that as many as 10 percent of servicemen and women who serve in the conflict will be diagnosed with a brain injury. That’s 150,000 Americans who will be coping with the aftermath of a brain injury.
We can expect, based on our experience treating civilians, that of those servicemen and women who suffer a brain injury, approximately 80 percent will suffer a mild brain injury and anywhere from five to 20 percent will be diagnosed with severe brain trauma that results in long-term disabilities. It should be noted, however, that the proportion of severely injured may be higher than average given the increased risk factors for active duty service members.
In addition to facing the challenges of caring for an influx of injured service men and women, military hospitals and Veterans Administration facilities are also coping with the challenges of transforming hospitals and rehabilitation centers designed primarily as orthopedic centers of excellence into neurotrauma units to meet the unique needs of those injured in this war.
The military has established four polytrauma units across the country that specialize in the care of soldiers with brain injuries. These centers, along with the 21 satellite polytrauma units, are highly regarded in the brain injury community and do a remarkable job during the acute phase of care.
However, long term recovery requires both excellent hospital care and continued access to a range of treatment models after discharge. Access to community-based residential, out-patient, or in-home support is critical to ensuring that these individuals achieve the highest level of recovery possible.
Programs that focus on maximizing quality of life and encouraging the development and the practice of life skills will help service members and their families adjust to the realities of living with a brain injury. Providing these services in their home communities also ensures that those going through rehabilitation and their loved ones have family support to make the journey easier.
After caring for thousands of individuals we know first hand the remarkable difference access to rehabilitative therapies can make in the quality of life for Americans with brain injuries. The difference in recovery level for individuals who have access to these services versus the recovery level for individuals who don’t is startling. Individuals who have consistent access to comprehensive rehabilitative services after their initial hospitalization are less likely to be placed in a long-term care facility or be permanently disabled. They have a better chance of returning to their families and leading fulfilling lives.
Not only is providing these services the right thing to do for our returning heroes, it makes sense from an economic perspective as well. Our nation’s long-term care facilities are already straining from the demands of an aging population. Providing rehabilitative services that allow our servicemen and women to return to their homes will reduce the pressure on an already overburdened system and reduce the number of individuals who require significant ongoing financial assistance.
As a nation we have an obligation to these men and women to do everything we can to help them recover.
The MENTOR Network and other private providers like it stand ready to join with the VA to serve our returning servicemen and women in their home communities. Together we can ensure that these returning soldiers receive the comprehensive care they deserve.