Congressman Bill Pascrell

Representing the 9th District of NEW JERSEY

Lobbyists Seek Increased Funding For Brain Injury Treatment, Research

Mar 17, 2005

By Kate Ackley - Roll Call Staff

Roll Call

The federal budget may be as tight as ever, but a collection of advocates is lobbying to squeeze extra money to help U.S. soldiers who have suffered brain injuries.

Scores of outside-the-Beltway proponents of funding for brain-injury treatment and research are in Washington this week. Along with their D.C.-based cohorts, they will lobby for additional Defense Department dollars as well as the reauthorization and funding of the Traumatic Brain Injury Act, which is under the Health and Human Services Department.

The president's budget allotted $7 million for treating soldiers and veterans for head injuries. But George Zitnay - who runs Virginia NeuroCare, a facility whose 11 beds are filled with active-duty soldiers from such locations as Iraq and Afghanistan - is one of the health care providers who's pushing for more.

Using language more commonly heard in appropriations hearings than in an operating room, Zitnay said that he and his allies are "asking for a plus-up of $7 million."

The additional $7 million will help "provide the care these individuals need to get them back - in some instances, actually going back to fight," said Zitnay, whose facility is one of several Defense Department-funded sites where soldiers and veterans receive treatment for head wounds. "It's a plus for the military. These are valuably trained people."

Jean Berube, a contract lobbyist for the National Brain Injury Research, Treatment and Training Foundation, noted that "last year, we asked for $7 [million], and we got $6 [million]."

Berube, who previously worked as an in-house lobbyist for the Brain Injury Association of America, said her client and its supporters have circulated letters to get the backing of Members to urge appropriators to dish out the extra $7 million.

On Tuesday, the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, co-chaired by Reps. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) and Todd Platts (R-Pa.), hosted a reception, and today the groups are sponsoring a briefing in Room 1537 in the Longworth House Office Building at which Pascrell, Zitnay and a group of brain-injury experts will brief Congressional aides who handle defense and health issues, among others.

"Traumatic brain injury can strike anyone and leave devastating results, and Congress has an obligation to examine the issue, see what can be done, and contribute," Pascrell said at the reception.

Lending urgency to their fight is the fact that the Traumatic Brain Injury Act is up for reauthorization this year.

"We are mobilizing all our advocates," said Kyle Mulroy, a principal at Holt, Mulroy & Germann Public Affairs.

Mulroy, the chief lobbyist for the Brain Injury Association of America, said that every year his team pushes Congress to include more money for the Defense Department program. But, this year with the act up for reauthorization, he said, "we have to do both."

Charla Penn, a legislative assistant to Pascrell, is the point person on the brain injury task force. She said the Defense and Veterans Head Injury Program is only a small part of the task force's efforts this month.

"We're working for everybody with a brain injury, whether you're a soldier or a civilian," Penn said.

This week, Pascrell and Platts introduced a measure to officially mark March as Brain Injury Awareness Month.

"Our primary legislative focus is reauthorization and fully funding the [Traumatic Brain Injury] program," said Susan Connors, president and chief executive of the Brain Injury Association, which has more than 250 advocates in Washington this week.

Connors said the return of soldiers with head injuries also affects the civilian system.