Every 48 minutes, someone in the United States is paralyzed as a result of a spinal cord injury. September marks National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month – a time to recognize the need for increased education and research to improve outcomes for the millions of Americans living with spinal cord injuries.
In an effort to bring more attention to spinal cord injury issues, September was designated as National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month by the U.S. Senate in 2011, a result of a resolution sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
Currently, there are roughly 40,000 veterans who use the Department of Veterans Affairs health system for spinal cord injury care, with the most common injuries resulting from fall and diving accidents from the Vietnam War, said Lana McKenzie, associate executive director of medical services and health policy for Paralyzed Veterans of America.
Spinal cord injuries are less common among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, in large part because of new research, technologies and preventative measures, McKenzie said. “What is more common today is what we call poly-trauma, which is more than two types of loss, such as a head injury and lower limb amputation,” McKenzie said. “Most are bomb-blasting injuries and fit in somewhat with spinal cord injury.”
Paralyzed Veterans of America since its inception has supported spinal cord research as well as educational initiatives to improve the lives of individuals with spinal cord injury – more than $100 million into research that promises new therapies, treatments and potential cures for paralysis.
Paralyzed Veterans also hosts an annual summit that provides continuing education and promotes best practices among clinicians who treat spinal cord injury patients. This year’s Summit took place Aug. 27-29 in Orlando, Fla.
Over the next five years, Paralyzed Veterans also will be advocating for better long-term care for veterans with spinal cord injury within the VA system. Currently, there are only 160 long-term care beds in the VA system, which is far too few to serve an aging population of more than 40,000 veterans with spinal cord injuries, McKenzie said.
“Long-term care for spinal cord injuries has been and will continue to be a challenge for the VA, and they’re not prepared for it,” she said. “That’s one of our big ticket items this year and going forward for the next five years.”
Paralyzed Veterans of American also will continue its outreach to veterans with spinal cord injury who may not be taking advantage of the high quality of care within the VA health system, McKenzie said. She encourages veterans to contact Paralyzed Veterans of America’s help line or Benefits Department for more information on how to access these benefits.
“The VA has been acknowledged as the best system of care for spinal cord injury patients not only in this country but in the world,” McKenzie said. “We need to reach out to veterans in the rural health area who may not have taken the opportunity to get their assessment or care in the VA health system and encourage them to do so.”
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Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.