America

American Legion Pushes For Brain-Injury Treatment

The American Legion, the nation's largest veterans' organization, is calling for the Pentagon's health plan to cover cognitive rehabilitation therapy for troops with brain injuries, citing an NPR and ProPublica investigation.

Cognitive rehabilitation therapy is designed to retrain the brain to do basic tasks such as memorization and word recall. Tricare, which covers nearly four million service members and many veterans, refuses to pay for the treatment, pointing to a study it funded in 2009 that found a lack of scientific evidence showing the therapy is effective.

But a report by NPR and ProPublica showed that Tricare's study came under attack from top brain specialists in confidential reviews.

Some called the study "deeply flawed" and a "misuse" of science for failing to consider all the evidence. Our investigation also found that Tricare officials had ignored the recommendations of a Pentagon panel, federal health organizations and other studies, which endorsed the treatment.

In a press release Tuesday, officials with the American Legion urged Tricare to begin covering the therapy, which can cost more than $50,000 per patient. Tricare officials say budgetary concerns played no role in their decision not to cover the treatment.

"It is incomprehensible that TRICARE is refusing to cover such treatment for our wounded warriors," said Jimmy Foster, the national commander of the American Legion. "Our troops have certainly earned their health-care benefits through their sacrifices and they deserve the best treatment available."

Legislators, including Rep. Bill Pascrell, (D-N.J.), who leads the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, have also asked Tricare to review its policies in providing coverage for the treatment.

Tricare officials contacted Wednesday said the military would continue to research the effectiveness of cognitive rehabilitation. They noted that Tricare does cover speech, occupational and other types of therapy for brain injury, which are often used in cognitive rehabilitation programs.

"The care and rehabilitation of our wounded service members is of utmost concern to the Department of Defense (DoD), the Military Services, and Tricare," the agency said in a written statement. "Tricare patients are eligible for a multitude of rehabilitative therapies and the entire military health system is constantly seeking new ways to assist our wounded service members."

(T. Christian Miller, of ProPublica, and NPR's Daniel Zwerdling have been reporting this year on troops returning home with traumatic brain injuries. Click here for the NPR News investigation Brain Wars: How The Military Is Failing Its Wounded.)

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