03/25/05 — Bill seeks help for brain injury victimes

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Bill seeks help for brain injury victimes

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on March 25, 2005 1:49 PM

When state money is distributed for health programs, people suffering from traumatic brain injuries are largely forgotten, says state Sen. John Kerr.

That's something he is trying to change.

Kerr introduced a bill in the Senate this week that asks for money for traumatic brain injury services.

The bill specifically asks that money be given to support programs provided by ReNu Life of Goldsboro.

ReNu Life specializes in rehabilitation and treatment programs for adults suffering from traumatic brain injury.

Dr. Jack St. Clair, the area director of Eastpointe, which provides mental health, developmental disability and substance abuse services to Wayne and three other counties, said that Kerr was instrumental in helping get the state's Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Council formed last year.

"There is a need for rehabilitation services for people with traumatic brain injuries," St. Clair said. "It is very much needed."

And the need for services could increase over the next few years, say some observers.

At an Eastpointe meeting earlier this week, board member Ann Turner said that a recent article in USA Today said that many American soldiers serving in Iraq are coming home with severe brain injuries.

According to the story, body armor is helping the soldiers survive bomb and rocket attacks, but they are suffering brain damage as a result of the blasts. Because they lacked today's body armor, soldiers in previous wars often didn't live to suffer from the brain injuries, the story said.

Pier Tarrant, who leads a local support group for people with brain injuries, said there are manyf soldiers returning from Iraq with brain injuries.

"It will be like Agent Orange was to Vietnam," she said. "With all the explosive devices that these guys are having to work with, it almost correlates to shaken baby syndrome."

"The brain is basically in fluid in the skull," Tarrant explained. "It can be moved back and forth."

Darlene Wetzel, the community outreach coordinator for the Brain Injury Association of North Carolina, said, "About 60 percent of all injured soldiers today have come to Walter Reed (hospital) for brain injuries. (There are) over 83 percent that come to Bethesda Medical Center for brain injuries."

St. Clair, who also serves on the state Brain Injury Advisory Council, said he was not aware of the problem with soldiers and brain injuries.

"We're surrounded by military bases, so that will be something we'll have to be sensitive to," he said.

Kerr said he became aware of the lack of services for brain injury patients when the daughter of one of his friends was injured in an automobile accident.

"She had traumatic brain injuries, but there was no after-care available," Kerr said. "There was no treatment available. Patients are given 30 days to stabilize in the hospital, and then you are out."

St. Clair said that money to fund mental health programs is split in three categories. Those categories are for the developmentally disabled, the mentally ill and those suffering from substance abuse.

So where does that leave the person with traumatic brain injuries?

"If an individual under the age of 21 has injury from head trauma, they are provided services through the developmentally disabled agencies," St. Clair said. "But if they are over the age of 21, they typically don't get funds."

St. Clair said that was something the council hopes to see change.

"One of things we're looking at is regarding definitions," he said. "We're also seeing what other states are doing and finding out how information about these injuries are reported to state agencies."

After compiling the information, and expanding the definition of traumatic brain injuries, the council plans to have some recommendations ready for the state.

Kerr said that money had been put aside in the state budget several years ago to have a traumatic brain injury center in Goldsboro.

"The idea was to renovate the old community college building, but then the hurricanes came and the money was used elsewhere," he said. "That building is no longer available for that use."

Kerr said that getting money for brain injury victims was a "slow and long process."

"They have no real advocacy group," he said. "But these are people that many times can be made self-sufficient."