Pentagon center for brain injuries failing vets: GAO

The investigative arm of Congress has released a report saying that the Pentagon center for research about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other traumatic brain injuries is so dysfunctional that it hasn’t carried out its mission.

A recent Government Accountability Office report on the Defense Centers for Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCOE) said that the center has been unable to define and justify its mission before Congress, making it hard to allocate funding for the center. Data showing the DCOE’s findings and progress aren’t readily available to Congress, making it that much harder for members to understand the center.

“[DCOE was] not able to explain to us in any clarity what they’re about, what they intend to do in the future, how much it’s going to cost and what value will come out of that spending,” Denise Fantone, a GAO director who helped supervise the investigation, told NPR.

This is just the latest blow for the DOD relating to soldiers’ psyches. NPR and ProPublica collaborated this year on a series of investigations titled “Brain Wars: How the military is failing its wounded,” which examines brain injuries and PTSD, the “signature injury” of recent veterans.

Because DCOE comprises a relatively small part of the Department of Defense’s budget, the GAO said, the program has fallen through the cracks. GAO recommended that the DCOE work with the director of Tricare, another military medical arm, to “develop and use additional narrative in budget justifications.” In other words, DCOE needs to amp up their message and prove that the work they’ve been doing since established in 2008 is doing good, or else risk budgetary ramifications from Congress.

Approximately 44,000 service members have been wounded in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of them requiring outpatient services for brain injuries and psychological symptoms. Despite the Defense Department’s authorization of DCOE in 2008, the Pentagon’s health insurance still does not cover treatment for soldiers with brain injuries, and the center’s work has not been widely known.

Because so many cases of PTSD go undiagnosed and untreated, there is no definitive number for how many soldiers have been affected.

“Clearly, the Pentagon is overdue in responding to our nation’s wounded warriors,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) said in a February statement about treatment for brain-injured soldiers. “It’s time to act.”

About the Author
Kase Wickman is a reporter for Raw Story. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and grew up in Eugene, OR. Her work has been featured in The Boston Globe, Village Voice Media, The Christian Science Monitor, The Houston Chronicle and on NPR, among others. She lives in New York City and tweets from @kasewickman.

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