All soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan who seek any treatment at Veterans Affairs hospitals are now being screened for brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder, VA Secretary Jim Nicholson said Monday.
The initiative, which has been in place about 90 days, was created in response to veterans' needs, he said. "Whether they come to us with a toothache or a sore knee, we screen them for any form of brain injury, and we are now screening every one of them for post-traumatic stress disorder," Nicholson told The Associated Press.
He said it was not in direct response to the "Wounded Warrior Assistance Act," approved by Congress in late March after revelations of shabby treatment of wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. [House debate transcript]
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Nicholson said that in the screening process, VA clinicians first talk to veterans, who will be given further testing such as brain scans if they have symptoms. He said previous research has focused on traumatic brain injuries rather than mild ones, which actually may account for many injuries in the bomb-ridden war zone.
"This is one of the signature injuries of this conflict, and we have now determined that because of the presence of these blasts, the kind of combat environment that the men and women over there are enduring, there's a possibility that they've had these injuries and were not aware of it, so we're checking," Nicholson said. ...
Nicholson said the additional screening is being funded through $100 million for enhancement mental health services and $20 million for veterans centers that help returning soldiers readjust to everyday life. Both were in the supplemental spending bill.
This is very good, if long-in-coming, news.