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Few Treatment Options in WV for "Signature Wound" of Iraq War

July 16, 2007

It's been called the "signature wound" of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Many veterans return with traumatic brain injuries, but experts say treatment options are few and far between, especially in rural states like West Virginia. Hilda Heady is a rural health expert at West Virginia University. She says brain injuries can have many complications, including memory loss, difficulty performing basic tasks, and mental health problems.

"The care that these individuals need many times is gonna be very, very sophisticated kind of care. And rural people's access to those kind of facilities are very limited."

She notes the VA has made progress in reaching out to rural areas, but there's still room for improvement -- things like providing more brain injury case managers, working with community health centers to provide more access to care, and recruiting and training more doctors to work in rural areas.

Heady points out that living in a supportive home environment can help brain injury victims recover, but that's hard to do if veterans can't get medical care close to home.

"When the kind of care that they need is someplace else, they have to be separated from their families. And when that happens, then we lose access to the first line of comfort as well as first line of defense helping the veteran recover."

Rob Ferrett/Eric Mack, Public News Service - WV