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Monday, June 27, 2011

Udall Bill Would Help Treat Vets With PTSD, TBI in Southern New Mexico

Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) has introduced legislation that he says would improve access to specialist medical care for veterans in southern New Mexico who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Senator Jeff Bingaman is an original co-sponsor. Veterans in recent conflicts have suffered from high rates of PTSD and TBI as a result of their combat experiences, and treatment has often been inadequate or difficult to access.

The bill, called the Southern New Mexico and El Paso, Texas - Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Care Improvement Act of 2011, calls for a report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on the feasibility of a new polytrauma rehabilitation center or polytrauma network site in southern New Mexico. It also asks the agency to specifically examine whether the Ft. Bayard medical center in Silver City would be a good fit for the center.

Udall says he developed the idea for the legislation after leading a discussion last fall at Ft. Bayard with New Mexico Veterans Secretary John Garcia on PTSD and other issues facing veterans. During that meeting, it was revealed that one of the biggest challenges facing veterans in southern New Mexico is finding treatment for these "invisible" wounds, which have become the signature injuries from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

“Veterans who have risked their lives for our country deserve convenient access to the best of care when they return home," Udall said. "Using the old Ft. Bayard medical center for a new polytrauma facility would be a win-win for the region –- it would provide veterans with much-needed, convenient access to specialty care through the innovative use of a facility that is currently being underutilized.”

“The VA should be constantly evaluating how it can best treat our nation’s veterans, and I think this study would be an important one,” Bingaman said. “Given the lack of specialized treatment centers anywhere near our southern New Mexico military bases, I hope that the VA determines that a location in our state, such as Fort Bayard, is ideal for a center that can treat veterans for these types of injuries.”

Despite southern New Mexico’s multiple military bases, there is not a single polytrauma rehabilitation center within 300 miles of any of these facilities. Since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began, more than 45,000 veterans have been diagnosed with a TBI-related condition. As a result of that increase, polytrauma centers have become vitally important sources of care for returning veterans.

In addition to a report on the feasibility of establishing a polytrauma rehab center in the southern New Mexico region, the legislation also asks for the Department of Veterans Affairs to assess the adequacy of existing VA facilities in the region and their ability to deal challenges in serving a growing veteran population. The legislation also has provisions to ensure local government agencies are consulted on the issue as appropriate.

The bill has received local support from the Village of Santa Clara, District 39 N.M. State Representative Rudy Martinez, The Operation Fort Bayard Task Force of Fort Bayard, New Mexico and the Grant County Commission.

June 27, 2011 at 10:02 AM in Healthcare, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, Sen. Tom Udall, Veterans | Permalink