Members of the Legion's PTS-TBI Ad-Hoc Committee meet in Washington Jan. 24-25. Photo by Craig Roberts

Legion's PTS-TBI committee meets in D.C.

The American Legion’s ad-hoc committee on traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress received a briefing Jan. 24-25 from federal agencies and other organizations on current medical treatments and programs related to TBI and PTS.

The seven-person committee, chaired by American Legion Past National Commander William Detweiler, heard presentations from the departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs; the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and the Canadian Armed Forces, among others.

"There is no doubt that DoD and VA are working hard in trying to meet the needs of our military personnel who have been diagnosed with TBI or PTS," Detweiler said. "But there are many variables that must be considered in the treatment of each individual that has sustained these injuries.

"As a result, there is no single treatment that fits all cases. In fact, it was clear from some of the presentations that medical experts cannot yet agree on a single screening procedure for these disabilities."

Dr. Wayne Gordon, from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, explained a program he has set up for indentifying mild or moderate cases of TBI. The committee discussed the potential for using The American Legion’s posts and departments – as well as its website – to assist in getting the word out to veterans about upcoming clinical trials for Gordon’s program.

Committee member Dr. Jeanne Stellman provided a technical briefing that centered on the success of using cognitive rehabilitative therapy (CRT) in treating moderate and severe cases of TBI.

"DoD’s own Center of Excellence agrees that CRT is an effective treatment, and The American Legion is urging Tricare to cover such treatment with its insurance, which it is currently declining to do," said Barry Searle, committee facilitator and director of the Legion’s National Security/Foreign Relations Division.

“In fact, the committee is recommending that the Legion should press for a congressional oversight committee to investigate the matter, and determine whether Tricare has a valid reason for excluding CRT in its insurance coverage."

Verna Jones, director of The American Legion’s Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division, said the ad-hoc committee’s pursuit of knowledge about TBI/PTS treatments"“is a major endeavor for us. It is as important as the Legion’s research on the effects of Agent Orange in the 1970s. We became a leading expert on Agent Orange, and a leading advocate for veterans suffering from its effects. We intend to do the same for servicemembers and veterans who suffer from TBI and PTS."

Dr. Michael Kirkpatrick, acting director of the Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Medicine and Traumatic Brain Injury, told the committee about the U.S. Army’s concern that troops returning from overseas combat aren’t being given enough time off-duty time to "decompress"” after deployment, or after they are injured. For troops who stay in-theater, Kirkpatrick said that typical off-duty time was about 72 hours.

A common theme voiced during the briefings was the need to improve communication among government agencies, and within the agencies themselves.

"It’s self-evident that DoD is doing a lot of outstanding work on TBI and PTS with its research and programs," Searle said. "There also could be more collaboration among the various clinical trials, except that they often don’t know about each other."

Detweiler said The American Legion "is committed to see that our military personnel receive the best medical care possible for any injuries or disabilities that result from service to America. Our work on this committee will help the Legion to develop resolutions that will urge VA and DoD to provide the best care possible for TBI and PTS – based on the best treatments and programs as they become available.:

The American Legion’s TBI/PTS Ad-Hoc Committee is charged with collecting relevant information on approved and innovative, nontraditional treatment methods for the two disabilities.

Detweiler said the committee will meet next in March and focus on TBI/PTS treatment for reserve components of the armed forces.