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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Veterans with Spinal Cord Injuries Receive Comprehensive Care at the Houston VA Medical Center

May 3, 2002

Veterans with Spinal Cord Injuries Receive Comprehensive Care at the Houston VA Medical Center

Each year, approximately 350 newly injured veterans and active duty members begin treatment and rehabilitation at VA's Spinal Cord Injury Centers

HOUSTON, TX - Approximately 250,000 people in the United States have spinal cord injuries and 10,000 more sustain these injuries every year. About 40,000 are veterans eligible for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical care.

About 60 percent of veterans with spinal cord injuries are eligible not only for health care, but also for monetary or other benefits because they have a service-connected disability, meaning that it occurred or worsened during military service. In the other cases, their injuries are not related to their military service, though these veterans still can receive VA medical care. Among health care workers and veterans' advocates, spinal cord injuries are commonly referred to by the acronym, SCI.

What Is It? The spinal cord is the main pathway for transmitting information between the brain and the nerves that lead to muscles, skin, internal organs and glands. Injury to the spinal cord disrupts movement, sensation and function. Paraplegia results from injury to the lower part of the spinal cord, causing paralysis of the lower part of the body, including the bowel and bladder. Quadriplegia results from injury to the spinal cord, in the neck area, causing paralysis to the lower body, upper body and arms.

Compensation VA pays disability compensation to about 25,000 veterans for service-related disabilities in which the spinal column or nearby structures are affected. A veteran rated by VA as 100 percent disabled may receive additional compensation if the injury resulted in loss of use of hands or feet or in other disabilities.

About a third of veterans with SCI are compensated $2,163 per month for being 100 percent disabled. Their disability rating may include other service-connected disabilities not related to their spinal injury. Many veterans with service-connected disabilities are also entitled to vocational counseling, grants for adapted housing and automobiles, a clothing allowance and payment for home and attendant care.

Health Care for Veterans with SCI VA has the largest single network of SCI care in the nation and provides a full range of care annually to 15,000 veterans with catastrophic spinal cord injury and specialty care to 9,000 of these veterans. Nearly 1,400 more veterans were served in VA SCI Centers in 2000 than in 1996. More than 80 percent of veterans with SCI suffered trauma. The rest have disorders that caused neurologic damage.

A study conducted by a major consulting firm in 2000 comparing VA's SCI services to those funded by several private and public health insurers showed that VA's coverage was more comprehensive. It integrates vocational, psychological and social services within a continuum of care and addresses changing needs throughout the veteran's life. VA provides supplies, preventive health care and education for veterans with SCI. VA also maintains their medical equipment.

Because the average age of a veteran at time of injury is 32, specialized care is lifelong. Technology and treatment have improved so that people with SCI have increasingly longer life expectancies. As they age, they risk developing secondary conditions as well as other diseases; therefore, maintaining health is an important part of VA's life-long care.

Newly injured veterans and active-duty members are referred to a VA SCI center for rehabilitation after being stabilized at a trauma center. Each year, approximately 350 newly injured veterans and active duty members begin treatment and rehabilitation at VA's SCI centers. The centers provide outpatient, inpatient, and home care. Lifelong care focuses on preventing secondary conditions through annual medical evaluations.

Houston SCI Center Located within the Houston VA Medical Center (HVAMC), the Houston SCI Care Line is the spinal cord center for the South Central Veterans Health Care Network (VISN 16). The Houston SCI Care Line includes forty inpatient beds on Nursing Units 1A and 1B. It also includes the SCI Outpatient Clinic, SCI Home Care Program, Urodynamics Lab, Occupational Therapy Clinic, Physical Therapy Clinic, Kinesiotherapy Clinic, Therapeutic Pool, and Transitional Living Apartment.

The Houston SCI Care Line provides comprehensive rehabilitation services and sustaining medical care for veterans with spinal cord injury or dysfunction (SCI/D). Sustaining medical care includes preventive medical care, the treatment of acute illnesses, and the treatment of medical and surgical complications related to SCI/D.

All patients receive the following services: a complete medical, psychological, and social assessment; development of an individualized treatment plan and discharge plan; appropriate medical and surgical treatments, interventions, and referrals; education and training for the person served, family members/support systems, attendants, and health care professionals; and communication and coordination with the interdisciplinary treatment team to facilitate service delivery, including discussion of weekly treatment plan and goals.

Research VA leads the health care profession in defining new methods of rehabilitation through research and engineering. In fiscal year 2000, VA spent $9.7 million to fund 84 research projects dealing with SCI. VA investigators conducted another 95 SCI projects supported by $7.7 million in grants from other sources.

VA's SCI research covers a wide range of topics. VA researchers are studying whether transplanting into a patient's central nervous system the cells that conduct nerve impulses from peripheral nerves in one part of the body to another part can restore nerve function in the brain and spinal cord. Others are developing a hand-grasp system that stimulates the forearm muscles that close and open fingers, offering better control.

In the late 1990s, VA began a special effort to identify gaps in knowledge about SCI treatment and to share findings with its clinicians nationwide. The goal is to improve the quality, effectiveness and efficiency of care. VA clinicians nationwide have access to a computer database for sharing treatment and outcome information that enhances the coordination of health care. This registry also helps make referrals to treatment locations.

Spinal Cord Injury
Spinal Cord Injury
photo by Medical Media, Houston VA Medical Center

Point of Contact: VHAHOU Public Affairs

04/21/04 08:25