Academy Supports Veterans Through White House "Joining Forces" Initiative

July 2, 2012

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Dr. Bruce Sigsbee

For the past decade, our country has asked a lot of the men and women in our armed forces who have been sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. Thousands gave their lives, and tens of thousands have returned to duty or home after suffering the effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI), often called the “signature wound” of these conflicts because of its ubiquity. TBI is associated with cognitive dysfunction, post–traumatic epilepsy, headaches, and other motor and sensory neurologic complications.

The AAN has been at the forefront in advocating for improved care for veterans with TBI. In 2007, we worked with then–Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Susan Collins to pass legislation to improve the process for evaluating the brain functions of service members before and after their overseas tours of duty. We were a leader in advocating for the successful development of the VA regional Epilepsy Centers of Excellence to assure access to care for veterans suffering from posttraumatic epilepsy. For the last few years, the Academy has offered CME courses at the Annual Meeting addressing neurologic injuries that result from war. We developed a Sports Neurology Section that addresses issues related to TBI, and advocated for local and state government laws governing care of concussion and return to play.

So it’s only natural that the AAN, along with numerous medical associations and 130 medical schools, is partnering in the White House’s “Joining Forces” initiative. Joining Forces is a comprehensive national initiative launched by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden to mobilize all sectors of society to give our service members and their families the opportunities and support they have earned. Joining Forces will help call attention to the critical health issues facing veterans and military families, and expand access to wellness programs and resources for military spouses and families.

The AAN agrees it is essential that the federal government and private sector allocate the resources to ensure all veterans have access to the necessary neurologic interventions and long–term treatments that their injuries require. The AAN is committed to supporting the Joining Forces project by:

  • Advocating for the funding and development of additional programs and services at the national level to support veterans with TBI, posttraumatic stress disorder, and related conditions, and their caregivers. This includes expansion of telemedicine capabilities and training and support for veterans and their caregivers to manage the long–term consequences of their injuries.
  • Publishing articles to build awareness for our members on the need to increase their capacity and expertise in managing patients with these conditions.
  • Developing further CME educational programs at our Annual Meetings, webinars, and other conferences on diagnosing and treating veteran patients.
  • Using our Government Services Section of neurologists to lead this effort across our membership.
  • Developing tools and resources based on practice guidelines on TBI and concussion medicine to assist members in advancing their clinical knowledge and skills in this arena.

The Academy asked Jack W. Tsao, MD, DPhil, FAAN, who is a member of the AAN’s Practice Committee and graduate of the 2004 Palatucci Advocacy Leadership Forum, to spearhead this initiative and represent us at the Joining Forces kick–off meeting. Jack also is a Commander in the US Navy, serves as

Director of TBI Programs for the US Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, and Associate Professor of Neurology and Neuroscience at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in Bethesda, MD.

“I am very grateful that the AAN leadership and staff have been extremely supportive of our men and women in uniform and helping those suffering from the invisible wounds of war,” Tsao said. “The Joining Forces initiative aims to engage medical professional organizations to educate their members about the medical issues of military service members. A large number of service members who have been deployed in support of combat operations are expected to retire or leave military service after their enlistment ends and will need health care throughout their lives. Since most health care professionals have not served in the military, Joining Forces has asked groups to educate their members about military service issues, in particular TBI and PTSD. The AAN, with its focus on neurology, is an ideal organization to help lead TBI efforts in partnership with the military and other medical groups.

We now have a website highlighting this initiative and have made available to members two of the chapters from the Continuum® TBI issue which we’d like all of our members to read.”

It is increasingly likely you will be on the front line for their care, so I encourage you to be prepared. The AAN is providing members with tools and resources related to TBI at www.aan.com/go/advocacy/joiningforces. These include the free education materials from Continuum: Lifelong Learning in Neurology®; reports on studies and new treatments; information about complicating factors such as epilepsy, depression, and headache; and insights into the challenges faced in the rehabilitation of people with TBI.

The Academy believes that our veterans deserve the best possible care and treatment for neurologic injuries sustained in their service to our country. Joining Forces will help medical professionals meet the unique health care needs of returning service members, veterans, and their families. For more information about Joining Forces, visit www.joiningforces.gov.

Bruce Sigsbee, MD, FAAN
President, AAN