Blinded Veterans Question Lack of Eye Trauma Funding in Defense Budget

 

The Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) questioned why no efforts were made this week in the Senate Appropriations Committee mark-up to introduce an amendment to provide urgently needed funding for the care of American troops affected by combat eye trauma and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) with visual impairments.

The organization expressed strong support for an amendment to add $7 million  to the Defense Appropriations mark-up for Vision programmatic funding.  In June, when the House Appropriations Committee had provided only $3.2 million, several members asserted that this figure was insufficient when considering the higher percentages of evacuated service members with penetrating eye injuries from both Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) conflicts.

While there seemed to be bi-partisan support in both the House and Senate among some Appropriations Committee members, no changes were allowed during the mark-up this week as the Senate deferred to House funding levels for the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) levels set in June.

Department of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, when asked at a Senate hearing in June about defense medical research, made it clear that during a time of budgetary restraints to the DoD medical budgets, combat traumatic injury research for our wounded warriors must be a priority in Congress.

More than 82 percent of service members have sustained severe eye blast injuries as result of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) with 65% of these suffering open globe penetrating wounds.  BVA is especially concerned over the lack of more specific TBI visual impairment research, which has helped to diagnose visual dysfunction in 54 percent of military members with TBI returning from (OIF) and (OEF). Of the last ten funded Vision grants in FY 2010, only four were for TBI vision dysfunction. BVA believes that additional funding in this area is imperative.

“This important Warfighter research funding increase will provide critical improvements in surgery for the wounded eye-injured personnel in front line medical care and for those with TBI vision impairments,” said BVA Executive Director Tom Miller. “Between 2002 and 2008, 13% of the total wounded had sustained some degree of moderate to severe eye injuries; therefore,  with 43,270 OIF/OEF/OND Wounded in Action as of May 2011, that would translate into 5,409 significant eye injured and, for those serving today, they would benefit from  a funding level of $10 million instead of $3.2 million.”

“Another key part of the eye trauma research funding is that the House mark-up included increased funding for TBI and orthopedic research of $130 million and $30 million, respectively, plus $75 million for other specific Warfighter research,” said Thomas Zampieri, BVA Director of Government Relations, “So why would eye trauma research be less important for front line troops and be funded there at its lowest levels.

According to Zampieri, the military medical system for decades has stated that priority aeromedical evacuation is to save life, limb, and eyesight.

“The current $3.2 million is completely insufficient to meet the current demand for eye research, not with 29 percent of all wounded experiencing  head and neck trauma,” he said. “This is the highest percentage  of casualties returning with this level of injury since World War II.”