TBI Council pushes new bill in Washington’s capitol

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The state Traumatic Brain Injury Strategic Partnership Advisory Council testified in front of the House Human Services Committee in Olympia on December 10, regarding the council’s efforts to provide resources and support for the tens of thousands of Washington State residents affected by TBI.

This past year, the council teamed up with the state Department of Veterans Affairs to create TBI peer support groups for returning wounded veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan at 33 colleges across the state. U.S. Army Veteran Timm Lovitt, TBI Field Coordinator with the state Department of Veterans Affairs, said the council’s support is essential to integrating these soldiers back into society.

“Part of the problem is that we still just don’t know enough about TBI,” he said, adding that in previous wars, prior to recent medical advances, most soldiers with TBI would have died on the battlefield.

This project – along with the council’s recent partnerships with law enforcement and emergency medical personnel – were only possible as a result of  temporary amendments passed by the state legislature in 2010 that expanded the scope of the TBI Strategic Partnership Act of 2007. Council chairman Mark Stroh, executive director of Disability Rights Washington, said the council is pushing a new bill this year to make the amendments permanent by changing the act’s statutory language.  According to the report the council provided to committee members, the Governor’s office has verified the proposed changes would not require the state to allocate any increased funding.

“With [the TBI Act], people like me are being listened to for the first time,” said Tommy Manning, an individual with TBI whom the 2007 act was named after. “This is important because there are so many people with TBI in the state of Washington.”

Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, who agreed this week to sponsor the legislation, focused her questions at the hearing on accountability, stressing the need for additional statistics to measure’s the council’s progress in supporting people with TBI. Specifically, she expressed interest in the results of an upcoming University of Washington study regarding veterans with TBI and estimates measuring the extent that TBI patients are receiving proper neuropsychological assessments.

Rep. Al O’Brien expressed concern regarding the geographic range of the council’s services, and whether they extend into rural areas. Seattle attorney and TBI council member Andrea Okomski highlighted the state’s resource coordination projects throughout the state, but cautioned that the council is still in the early stages of some of its major projects, such as its community support services at its recently opened TBI Clubhouse in north Seattle.

“We need to make sure this one survives so we can replicate it throughout the state,” she said.

Two health care professionals, both of whom are council members, testified on behalf of the council. Samuel Browd, a U.W. assistant professor of neurological surgery, said the council has opened his eyes to the importance of the recovery process for TBI patients, which often takes years. He said that a sustained recovery requires aggressive support outside the hospital.
 
”We do a really good job of bringing them through the hospital experience, where people complain to me is the next step…they are lost,” Browd said.

Along with the recovery process, clinical neuropsychologist Laura Dahmer-White said many patients often can’t receive proper services in the hospital because of the “incredibly low” reimbursement rates for Medicaid providers for TBI issues. She said “it’s heartbreaking” to not always be able to provide full services for people with TBI.

Rep. Dickerson, who currently heads the committee, said the council members will likely have another chance during the legislative session to testify on the proposed revisions to the TBI Act.