Statement of Senator Richard Burr
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee
May 5, 2010
Good morning Mr. Chairman. Thank you for calling this important hearing on the progress that has been made in diagnosing and treating veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury, better known as “TBI”.
I want to take a moment to recognize several North Carolinians who are in attendance at this hearing. They each have important stories to tell.
First, we have on our second panel Jonathan Barrs. Jonathan retired from the Marine Corps last year after two tours in Iraq. He experienced two improvised explosive device (IED) blasts in one week while serving as a turret gunner on his Humvee and was later diagnosed with a TBI in 2008. Jonathan, thank you for agreeing to share your story and experiences with us this morning.
Also joining us Mason Poe and his wife, Kristen. Mason was in a coma for one month following an IED blast in Iraq. 30 surgeries later, he is walking and has started his own small business. Both Mason and his wife have submitted testimony for the record.
Next, Vincent Gizzerelli (Ghizz-er-elli). Vincent served two tours in Iraq before his separation from service last year. He took shrapnel in his leg and has a moderate to severe TBI following an IED blast in 2004. Vincent, thank you for your presence.
Lastly, I want to acknowledge Sarah and Ted Wade for their work within the Wounded Warrior Project. Ted sustained a severe brain injury while in Iraq, and Sarah has been at his side ever since. Later today the President will sign into law a bill that will direct the creation of a program of assistance for family caregivers. Without the bravery and support of
loved ones, like Sarah, many of our wounded warriors would be forced to live in nursing home settings.
Sarah and Ted have submitted testimony for the record today, but they have already been invaluable in helping the Congress, VA, and the Defense Department with how to improve care coordination and delivery to servicemembers and veterans with TBI. Their efforts were just as critical in shaping the family caregiver legislation.
To all of you, thank you for your service to our country. And thank you for your willingness to continue that service by working with us to improve the system of care and benefits for all.
Mr. Chairman, just over three years ago the Committee held a hearing on VA’s ability to respond to the health care needs of returning servicemembers. The care provided to what is known as the “signature wound” of the current war, TBI, was a main focus.
What we learned from that hearing led to provisions enacted within the FY2008 Defense Authorization Act. Specifically, the law directed or authorized action on the following fronts:
o Providing to each of our TBI wounded an individualized plan of rehabilitation and reintegration into the community;
o Using rehabilitation services outside of VA where appropriate, particularly for newly injured veterans;
o Research on the diagnosis and treatment of TBI;
o Providing assisted living services in veterans’ communities; and finally
o The provision of age-appropriate nursing home care to younger veterans with severe TBI, whose needs are vastly different than a typical nursing home patient.
I hope to learn from both VA and DoD the progress they have made in each of these areas.
Furthermore, I’m interested to learn whether one of the key recommendations of the Dole-Shalala Commission – the creation of Federal Recovery Coordinators – is helping servicemembers and their families navigate systems of care and benefits that can be overwhelming.
From those who work or do research on TBI issues on a day-to-day basis, I hope to learn how we might continue to improve on our past efforts.
Mr. Chairman, our nation faces extraordinary domestic challenges. But we must never forget the sacrifices our men and women and their families make in defense of our freedom.
Meeting their needs is our highest priority as a nation. I remain committed to working with you to ensure that we fulfill our obligation to them.
Again, thank you to our witnesses. I yield back, Mr. Chairman.