By Kim Walter
Although disappointed with the final General Assembly budget, the Brain Injury Association of Virginia will continue fighting for improved and increased services for those with brain injury in underserved areas.
Local residents living with brain injury or caring for someone who has suffered from one attended a budget hearing at Lord Fairfax Community College earlier this year. There, they shared personal stories of triumphs and setbacks with legislators, and pleaded for additional funding to support services that can't be found in the area.
Community members also described their struggle with waiting lists for services and waivers.
The Senate and House Appropriation Committee allocated $105,000 for brain injury service providers to go toward alleviating waiting lists, which is supposed to impact 87 people. Funding was not appropriated to expand core services to underserved areas such as the northern Shenandoah Valley.
Anne McDonnell, director of the Brain Injury Association of Virginia, said the expansion of services is vital to the region. The northern Shenandoah Valley district has about 5,000 people living with a disability from a brain injury, she said.
"That's not even including the people who claim to be recovered, or are just kind of hanging on," she said.
People seeking a person with significant expertise in brain injury will have to travel well outside of the area, McDonnell added.
Personally, McDonnell said she feels the math was a "little faulty" when the $105,000 allocation was made. She said she doesn't see how that amount of money can help the 87 people it's supposed to, since they are brain injury sufferers with the most significant need.
In response to the lack of funding, the association is working to collect more information on what services are needed throughout the state. McDonnell said if the association can "better define" its numbers, it might have more of an impact come budget season.
Of course, she said those with brain injury or their caregivers should never hesitate to share their story with legislators and the association.
"If we come across a great story that might make a difference, we're happy to bring those folks to budget hearings," she said. "But it's also good to go straight to your representative when you're experiencing a challenging time because of your brain injury. They need to know how many people are affected by this, and how important funding and services are."
McDonnell suggested another way for people to make their voices heard. She said the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services is conducting a statewide Brain Injury Needs and Resources Assessment of the needs of individuals with brain injury, their family members, caregivers, and professionals and programs serving persons with brain injury in Virginia.
"This will give us a much better idea of who needs what, and where things are specifically needed," she said. "It's going to assist us in that we'll know what to ask for when we approach legislators in the future ... we'll have real data to offer."
The association needs as much help as possible - McDonnell said ideally, a bit more than $1.8 million would cover the basic needs of people with brain injury throughout the state.
"We have more individuals living in Virginia with a brain injury or resulting disability than people living with an intellectual disability," she said. "The numbers aren't going to stop rising if we don't get people the necessary treatment and awareness."
The survey is available to anyone at least 18 years old who is a survivor of a brain injury or the caregiver of such a person. It is not limited to only those who sustained traumatic brain injuries from things like car accidents, assaults or falling, but also includes other types coming from brain tumors, an aneurysm, stroke or infection.
Professionals who operate a program that serves the brain injury community may also be eligible to participate in order to provide information about the resources offered, the gaps in services, and the needs seen among those served.
To find out more about the survey and how to participate, go to www.biav.net/announcements/virginia-brain-injury-needs-and-resources-assessment.
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org