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Funding for traumatic brain injury care would drop under the White House’s proposed fiscal 2015 budget, but Veterans Affairs Department officials say that’s actually good news.
In congressional testimony on Wednesday, VA Undersecretary for Health Robert Petzel said the reduction reflects the changing nature of veterans’ injuries — not a lack of commitment by VA physicians.
“We’ve seen an almost 70 percent decline in the number of severe TBI cases in recent years, while the number of mild and moderate cases has gone up,” he said. “It costs much less to treat that group than the polytrauma cases. So we’ll be taking care of more people, but at less cost.”
VA’s nearly $164 billion budget request seeks $229 million for traumatic brain injury medical programs in fiscal 2015, down about 1.3 percent from this year’s funding level. Although small, it’s the first decrease in that particular budget account since Barack Obama became president.
Petzel told lawmakers that officials are still focused on diagnosing and treating brain injuries, and noted that overall mental health care funding would rise 4.5 percent — to more than $7.1 billion — in the budget request.
VA also is developing new ways to gauge mental health performance, including such aspects as timeliness of available care and long-term results for patients. Those are expected to be released in the next year.
In addition, VA and the Defense Department last month published new guidelines on post-concussion care to ease patients back into daily life, and better differentiate between temporary trauma and more serious, lingering brain injuries.
VA officials touted the budget proposal as evidence of the White House’s commitment to veterans’ care. It calls for roughly a 3 percent increase in discretionary funding from fiscal 2014, one of only a handful of agencies to see a significant funding increase.
Non-mandatory spending in the VA budget has risen more than 30 percent since 2009.