After the tragic shooting of White House Press Secretary James Brady in the 1980s, he and his family became the most high-profile supporters of gun control in America, leading to the passage of the Brady bill and spawning the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, an organization we still see advocating today.
We may be on the precipice of a similar transformation by Gabrielle Giffords and her supporters. Giffords was a gun rights supporter prior to her shooting. So her advocacy on that is an open question. But we are seeing her Congressional office using the issue of traumatic brain injury as a point of focus.
As the Daily Beast reports, a “central component” of Giffords’ therapy regimen is cognitive rehabilitation therapy, a costly medical treatment designed to retrain the brain to do basic tasks.
Such treatment, as we noted in January, may be available to Giffords, but is out of reach for thousands of U.S. troops whose health coverage doesn’t include it. The Pentagon’s health care program, Tricare, has refused to cover it but does cover certain types of therapy—such as speech and occupational therapy—which can be a part of cognitive rehabilitation therapy. Tricare officials have said that scientific evidence does not justify providing it comprehensively to troops.
But in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this month, Giffords’ office has taken a stance. Pia Carusone, her chief of staff, asked the Obama administration to remedy the inequities in access to quality brain injury rehabilitation.
“Most military service members and other Americans who have sustained TBIs lack access to the same high standard of care,” Carusone wrote. (Read the full letter.) “It is imperative that all Americans with TBI have access to the same full continuum of medical treatment that Congresswoman Giffords has been so fortunate to receive.”
Giffords is living proof of the potential for cognitive rehabilitation therapy. It’s an expensive procedure. But the Pentagon budget, let’s say, has a few bucks to spare in reserve. Rather than putting that money into buying the 1,592nd armored carrier or 15th prototype stealth fighter that will simply be mothballed, that money ought to go to fix the soldiers who are wounded in battle. And there’s nobody better to take up that fight than Gabrielle Giffords.
HHS doesn’t have a lot of control over this; TRICARE is not affected by the determination of essential health benefits in the Affordable Care Act. But pressure can be brought to bear on the Pentagon and the VA to establish some baselines for traumatic brain injuries.
The full release and the letter to HHS is here. This is a good fight for Giffords, and I hope in the future she’ll expand it to strictly limit exposure to TBI among service members by ending unnecessary wars of choice.