March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. On one hand, it's an opportunity for those of us in the veterans' community to talk openly about the challenges faced by injured post-9/11 veterans. On the other, it's also a time to share the scientific progress we've seen over the last decade. The fact is, we've come a long way in dealing with these injuries that are the signature wounds for this generation of service members.
There have been great strides in the initial treatment of these injuries both on the battlefield and in the operating room, with a strong surge in survival rates. As the Department of Veterans Affairs noted in testimony last week, there has been an almost 70 percent decline in the number of severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) cases in recent years, while the number of mild and moderate cases has gone up.
But these statistics don't tell the full story. For those recovering from a TBI, they face a long road toward recovery and rehabilitation. They have survived, but how will they relearn to thrive?
While we have made incredible progress in the initial treatment of these injuries, we are falling short in ensuring that the necessary sustained support and services are available for these men and women over their lifetime.
It's an issue that certainly keeps me up at night. Will we have the resources to support the 28-year-old staff sergeant who was discharged into the care of his family and who has goals beyond simply living? As he ages into his 30s and 40s, are the specialists ready and available to address his changing needs? Will his family have the funds to support the team of specialists he'll need as he strives to regain some of the independent function his injury cost him?
For our part, Wounded Warrior Project is stepping up to say we will be there. Thanks to generous donors from across the country, we've committed $30 million in 2014 to cover both immediate and long-term needs of 250 of the most severely wounded warriors who would be at most risk for institutionalization otherwise.
The funding serves the most severely wounded warriors through two separate initiatives: The Independence Program and The Long-Term Support Trust. The Independence Program works with the warrior and his or her full support team to create an individualized plan for each warrior; activities may include speech and literacy training, social skills coaching, independence and community integration techniques, mental health counseling, and development of career goals and leadership skills. This year, The Long-Term Support Trust's first year in existence, will see up to 80 warriors enrolled, where they will receive access to secured funding allocated to cover the costs of up to 20 years of support services designed to keep these most vulnerable warriors in their homes, or the least restrictive settings possible. This funding is just the start, and we hope to expand the programs over the years to serve the thousands of warriors who could benefit from greater independence.
If we, as a nation, genuinely want to empower a generation of warriors and provide those with the greatest need opportunities to define what independence means to them, it will take community support and public responsibility. And it will require us to treat our support for those who've fought for us as a marathon -- not as a sprint.
Brain Injury Awareness Month is only a month for those of us who do not have these injuries. For survivors and their families, it's every day.