Press Releases

Hickenlooper Leads Colorado Delegation in Urging VA to Authorize Community Care For Veterans with Traumatic Brain Injuries

Sep 29, 2022

Many veterans report problems with accessing health care at Community Care providers such as CU Anschutz

Washington, D.C. – Yesterday, U.S. Senators John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet and U.S. Representatives Jason Crow, Diana DeGette, Joe Neguse, Lauren Boebert, Ken Buck, Doug Lamborn, and Ed Perlmutter, sent a bipartisan letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough urging the VA to authorize community care for high-risk veterans with traumatic brain injuries (TBI). The letter follows concerns from veterans who have been denied community care authorization by the VA for TBI treatment at the Marcus Institute for Brain Health (MIBH) located at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center.

“Veterans with persistent TBI symptoms are at a higher risk of suicide, making access to specialized treatment essential. We urge the VA to promptly authorize community care for these high-risk Veterans under their existing eligibility criteria. It is critical for veterans to receive timely and appropriate care,” wrote Hickenlooper and the delegation. “MIBH treats all of these veteran patients, regardless of their ability to pay, but it is disheartening to hear that veterans from across the country are being denied the top-quality care to which they are entitled under the VA MISSION Act.”

Estimates suggest that out of the millions of servicemembers that have been deployed to combat zones since 2001, half a million return home with a TBI. Approximately 50 percent of veterans with a history of TBI also meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder and other complex comorbidities including cognitive impairment, pain disorders, substance misuse, and an elevated risk for suicidal ideation. 

“The Dept. of Veterans Affairs is a crucial partner for us as we look to treat veterans in Colorado suffering from traumatic brain injuries,” noted James Kelly, MD, MA, FAAN, FANA, executive director of the MIBH. “We are grateful for Sen. Hickenlooper’s and Colorado delegation’s efforts to enhance our partnership with the VA, which will ensure that veterans in Colorado receive the highest quality of care.”

Under the VA MISSION Act of 2018, veterans can receive care through the VA’s Community Care Program. The Marcus Institute for Brain Health, located in Aurora and a member of the VA Community Care network, is a pioneering civilian veteran brain health institute and has cared for over 400 veterans and their families since 2017. Patients with TBI who have received care at MIBH demonstrate a 75 percent reduction in the severity of TBI-related symptoms. However, only 10 percent of the approximately 100 veterans enrolled in VA community care have been authorized to obtain treatment for their persistent TBI symptoms at the MIBH.

The full text of the letter is available HERE and below:

Dear Secretary McDonough,

We write to address the needs of Veterans who have experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Specifically, as the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) considers policy changes to Community Care established in the VA MISSION Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-182), we request that you review reported inconsistencies in Community Care policy decisions that may have resulted in unjust denials of community care for Veterans with a TBI.

Since 2001, millions of servicemembers have deployed to combat zones, and over half have deployed more than once. Estimates suggest that around half a million of these servicemembers returned home with a TBI. Approximately 50% of veterans with a history of TBI also meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other complex comorbidities including cognitive impairment, pain disorders, substance misuse, and an elevated risk for suicidal ideation.

To address the challenging clinical needs associated with evaluating and treating invisible wounds, the Marcus Institute for Brain Health (MIBH) at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus established a pioneering civilian veteran brain health institute. Since 2017, the MIBH has successfully evaluated, educated, and supported nearly 400 veterans and their families. MIBH’s interdisciplinary model of care is modeled after that of the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE), which evaluates and treats active-duty service members with TBI. After completing a course of treatment at the MIBH, every patient has reported some improvement in their overall health, function, and wellness. Approximately 75% demonstrate a clinically important reduction in the severity of their TBI-related symptoms.

The MIBH shares a strong partnership with the VA. They have an existing Memorandum of Agreement with the VA and all clinical providers are included in VA’s Community Care Network.

It is our understanding that approximately 100 veterans enrolled in VHA care have requested treatment at the MIBH under one of the six VA Community Care eligibility criteria as outlined in the 2018 VA MISSION Act. Unfortunately, only 10% have been authorized to obtain this care for their persistent TBI symptoms. MIBH treats all of these veteran patients, regardless of their ability to pay, but it is disheartening to hear that veterans from across the country are being denied the top-quality care to which they are entitled under the VA MISSION Act.

Veterans with persistent TBI symptoms are at a higher risk of suicide, making access to specialized treatment essential. We urge the VA to promptly authorize community care for these high-risk Veterans under their existing eligibility criteria. It is critical for veterans to receive timely and appropriate care, and we look forward to working with you to ensure that they do.

Sincerely,

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