By Kim Walter
MIDDLETOWN -- Friday's state budget hearing shed light on several topics that concern area residents, including services and treatment for individuals who have suffered a traumatic brain injury.
A $2.5 million proposal for the upcoming state budget would provide funding to maintain operations of ten state-funded brain injury programs, create a data collection system and conduct brain injury outreach and counseling services.
"Recovery from a brain injury requires long-term community support, and services such as case management, information and referral, clubhouse programs and day support programs," said Jill James, who has worked in human services throughout the valley.
James recently started working more with people who had suffered brain injuries, and said she noticed quickly the lack of services available to them in the area.
"It was shocking," she said. "I guess some of it is because it can be an invisible injury ... you can't always see it right away, but it affects so many parts of the person."
James told the panel of representatives that TBI is a contributing factor to a third of all injury-related deaths in the United States.
"And it doesn't discriminate," she said. "Brain injuries can happen to anyone, at any time, not just to those participating in risky behaviors."
Michelle Witt, executive director of Crossroads to Brain Injury Recovery, Inc. in Harrisonburg, also spoke in support for possible funding. Ten years ago, the General Assembly recognized treatment for sufferers of brain injuries, and established core safety net services in Virginia -- but not throughout the entire commonwealth.
"As it is, funding for these core services remains tragically low," she said. "Residents in this particular area don't have these services available to them, and those area that do offer the services have waiting lists stretching two years."
Witt said funding was also needed to get those with brain injuries out of jails and institutions and into community-based settings.
Kathleen Mancini of Front Royal, has suffered from multiple brain injuries and started a Brain Injury Support Group in Winchester. She had planned to attend Friday's hearing, holidays and various other issues complicated her attending.
"This is such an important issue and I was finally getting some interest from some key people to support this desperately needed service," she said Friday via email. "Unfortunately, when trying to accomplish anything when you have a brain injury, you never seem to have enough energy, focus, and resources."
Mancini is trying to push for Case Management Services for brain injuries in the area, as the services aren't available to those in Winchester or Warren, Clark or Frederick counties.
"Harrisonburg has had Case Management Services for Brain Injuries available for ten year," she said. "Why? Because a group of local advocates got together and did a great job of getting attention for it and making it a priority."
Witt said that while the $2.5 million would be a step toward maintaining services, "more is needed."
"We need to expand the services we offer now, but we also need to make sure that they're available in more places," she said. "Please support the budget amendment and help the thousands of people in Virginia who trying to recover from a brain injury."
One mother spoke of her son who suffered from a brain injury, and spent much time in hospitals and recovery centers across the country. Now, 24 years later, one might look at her son and not realize that he has a brain injury, but she said "maybe that's what makes it so difficult."
"This invisible injury will never go away," she said. "Do you know what it's like to be afraid for your 42-year-old-son to use the stove because he might forget it's on? ... He and many others like him need structured services like clubhouses and counselors, but those services are not available where we live."
"I ask that you please support funding for brain injury," the mother said, struggling to hold back tears. "Ensure that these core safety net services are here, in Virginia."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org