Thursday, February 22, 2018
Opinion

Remove stigma so more veterans get help for head injuries

For more than two centuries, America's brave men and women have answered the call of service, defending the freedoms of this great nation. In doing so, they have made great sacrifices, including time away from family, physical injury and loss of life.

The effects of war, though, are not always evident. Head injuries are the signature, and often invisible, wounds of our recent wars. These injuries are not a sign of weakness or a character flaw, but rather the potential catalyst of more serious illnesses such as traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Nearly one-third of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who received VA health care in the decade after 2001 were diagnosed with PTSD, and the numbers are only expected to climb.

Members of our armed forces live by a creed that encourages dedication, teamwork and commitment. This unified spirit encourages them to support one another — no matter the elements or the personal harm that may occur. Sadly, it also results in some not seeking the treatment to ensure that these injuries don't develop into more serious conditions.

As vice chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee and co-chairman of the Military Veterans Caucus, I am working with my colleagues to tear down the stigma surrounding head injuries to ensure that our service members get the care they need. Together, we must create a culture that encourages our service members to seek treatment and take time to heal.

Veterans' care must be comprehensive, addressing both physical and mental health needs. Unfortunately, because of inequities in the law, treatment for brain injuries often solely focuses on physical restoration, overlooking the critical mental health component.

To better address veterans' long-term recovery and success, I have and will continue to support legislation to clarify the definition of rehabilitation and to ensure that veterans' care adequately addresses both physical and mental health needs. I have also participated in numerous committee hearings with the VA, where we focused on mental health care and how the Department of Defense and the VA can better address these issues.

We must also ensure that all veterans have timely access to quality care in their communities, particularly in situations of TBI and PTSD. This care should include specialized treatment through innovative approaches, such as age-appropriate recreational rehabilitation for our most severely injured veterans.

Last year, I brought NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Army Gen. Lloyd Austin and members of Congress together to discuss TBI and PTSD so we could find ways to further our research efforts and change the culture among our soldiers, veterans and athletes.

Together, the NFL and the Army have made great strides to promote early diagnosis by coupling their research and encouraging soldiers and athletes to seek treatment. While they have come a long way, there is still much that can be done on both the football field and the battlefield.

As we mark PTSD Awareness Month, we must come together to address these important issues. Whether it's raising awareness for these illnesses or helping someone you know seek treatment for their injuries, we can draw attention to the real dangers head injuries present and encourage our service members to get the help they need.

Rep. Gus M. Bilirakis, a Republican, represents Florida's 12th District in the U.S. Congress. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

Comments
Editorial: They value guns, not kids

Editorial: They value guns, not kids

They value guns over kidsSix days after 17 were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High by a teen-ager firing an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, the Florida House refused to even debate a bill banning the sale of assault weapons. The vote, 71 to 36, wasn...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are traveling to the state capital today and declaring "never again.íí A prominent Florida Republican fundraiser vows he wonít raise another nickel until his party approves new gun controls. Across F...
Published: 02/19/18

Editorial: No more doubt about Russian meddling in election

The latest indictment by the Justice Department special counsel, Robert Mueller, refutes President Donald Trumpís claims that Russian interference in the 2016 election was a Democratic hoax. The indictment details the lengths Russian conspirators too...
Published: 02/19/18

Another voice: Tips should belong to workers, not their bosses

The Trump administration is under fire for proposing a Labor Department regulation that could result in hotel and restaurant employers dipping into the tips customers leave for their employees, depriving the nationís 14 million hard-working restauran...
Published: 02/18/18
Updated: 02/20/18
Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Itís not popular in Washington or virtually anywhere else these days to express concern about the rising federal deficit. Congressional Republicans who used to be deficit hawks first voted to cut taxes by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, then rais...
Published: 02/17/18
Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

The city of Tampa should have taken Tanja Vidovic seriously from the start when the Tampa firefighter complained about her treatment in the workplace. Now that a jury and judge have spoken, itís time for City Hall to cut its losses, learn from its mi...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

The dark cloud enveloping Tampa Bayís job placement centers keeps growing. There are accusations of forged documents, evidence of nepotism and concerns about grossly inflated performance numbers that could be tied to receiving more public money and b...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Even before the victims of another mass shooting at another public school were identified, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, state legislators and members of Congress rushed to South Florida or to social media to offer their thoughts and p...
Published: 02/15/18
Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

The Florida Department of Children and Families is right to call for a timely and "comprehensive" review of Hillsborough Countyís foster care system. Though the probe is a reaction to a recent case involving a child who was left unattended, the revie...
Published: 02/14/18

A Washington Post editorial: Modernize 911 calling before it becomes an emergency

This Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the first 911 emergency call placed in the United States. Since then, uncounted lives have been saved and people helped. It has been a great accomplishment of government.But even as an estimated 240 million 9...
Published: 02/13/18
Updated: 02/14/18