Link: A Head for the Future

This past Friday was Veterans Day, a time to honor soldiers and veterans who fought for the principles upon which America was founded.  In commemoration, I searched for information about the military and brain injury.  It was upsetting that my search resulted in so many news articles, at least one article per day in the recent past.  However, some of these daily articles involved efforts of the military to help those wounded in service, such as that of a retired General who just received an award for his efforts related to brain injury,  and inspiring stories of recovery, such as one involving the healing support of trained dogs.

Of particular interest was the website A Head for the Future.  The site, a collaboration of the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) and the Defense Centers of Excellence, is associated with every branch of the military.  On the front page of the site, one can find links to sections on how to PREVENT, RECOGNIZE, RECOVER and GET INVOLVED and a section called MATERIALS, in which one can view and download facts about brain injury.  Featured on the site is a BLOG, where veterans and their families can submit personal stories of brain injury to the DVBIC.  The page also allows visitors to view videos featuring veterans telling their stories on camera.  These stories, both those in print and on video, are quite poignant and worth viewing.

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Wait and See

Based on his statements and actions, a Trump presidency with a Republican-controlled Congress may seem to be the worst election outcome possible for disabled Americans.  In a poll cited by CNN, for example, people agree that mocking a reporter with the joint condition arthrogryposi was the most egregious error that Trump made during his campaign.

However, those worries may not entirely be warranted.  Trump is a businessman and a television personality.  He says what will get him a deal, acts in a way to give him an audience and, in the case of the election, promises what will get him votes.  For example, one of the hallmarks of Trump’s campaign was his promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.  Since winning the election, though, “Trump [has] said he would [at least] like to keep the portions of the law requiring coverage of pre-existing conditions and children living at home under the age of 26.”  From what I can determine, Trump simply wants his name tied to a major legislation.  (He wants to keep some of the principles of Obamacare, but replace the wording with some synonyms, so that people will call it Trumpcare?)

As for the Republican-controlled Congress, it is good to remember that most people, including Senators and Representatives, are related to or have some association with a disabled person.  During the Obama Administration, almost half of the brain injury-related legislation that became law were sponsored by Republicans, specifically 8 of 20.  As I noted in the past, Republicans do care.  While Hillary Clinton may have won the popular vote, it is best not to presume that a Trump presidency will negatively impact those with a brain injury or all of those with a disability.

Tomorrow is Election Day…

In August, I posted an article entitled “The Deciding Vote”, which discussed how gaining the vote of the disabled could effect the results of the tight 2016 Presidential race.  What I did not consider, though, is that some of those with mental disabilities have lost their legal right to vote.  “[It is] believed [that]… more than 30,000 Californians — and an unknown number of others in the U.S. — [have] lost their voting rights under state guardianship laws.”  (“A guardian is a person, institution, or agency appointed by a court to manage the affairs of another individual.”)  Given that the current polls show that this election is within the margin of error, these tens of thousands of votes per state could be of great import.

What constitutes a mental disability varies in each state.  For example, ALA [Alabama] CODE § 38-9C-4(7) states, “Persons with developmental disabilities and traumatic brain injury have the right to vote and participate in the political process, subject to applicable laws.”  About 30 other states, however, restrict the voting rights of those with traumatic brain injury and other neurological disabilities, such as autism and cerebral palsy.  For example, in California, “Five years ago, a judge ruled that a traumatic brain injury disqualified [a man, David Rector, from voting].”  (This year, after a trial in the San Diego Superior Court, David Rector regained his legal right to vote.)

To all those who have a disability that may be restrictive to others with the same disability, but who are legally allowed to vote themselves, I believe it is imperative to do so.  Show that your vote matters!

Click to view a full list of states that have laws related to voting for the neurologically disabled and a description of these laws.

Readying for the Red Planet

In 2015, Matt Damon was part of a team that traveled to Mars.  Specifically, in the film The Martian, he starred in the story of an astronaut who traveled to Mars and was left behind by his fellow astronauts.  The film had a budget of about $100 million and grossed over $225 million at the box office.  It was nominated for 172 awards, including 7 Academy Awards, and won 33 awards.  Essentially, The Martian played on the fantasy that many humans have: to travel to another planet.  With new technology continually being developed, this fantasy has become much more likely to happen in recent years.  However, the 2015 film, based on a 2011 book of the same name, discounts one of the probable issues when traveling to and from the Red Planet: radiation exposure.

According the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), “The Martian highlights the neurological, radiation-related dangers that could occur on a round trip to Mars.”  However, simply showing the astronauts living in a radiation-shielding habitat, does not really show why radiation-shielding would be of upmost importance.  The Guardian notes the inaccuracies of the film, such as, “Everyone would die… due to excessive radiation.”  Broadly defined, radiation is “the emission or transmission of energy in the form of waves or particles through space or through a material medium.”  While rare on Earth, it can be emitted by things as televisions and x-rays. It is, however, prevalent in space and the Mayo Clinic confirms that “radiation sickness is serious and often fatal.”

If they travel to another planet, “The astronauts are not going to come back with full-blown Alzheimer’s… but… there will be some mild cognitive impairment,” says Charles Limoli, professor of radiation oncology at the University of California. To prevent these cognitive impairments, which may lead to problems seen in other neurological disorders, such as impaired decision-making and depression, NASA is looking for a way to protect the neural circuitry of the body in space.  In fact, “Researchers hope that the initiatives in place to help send humans on deep space missions will also help those on Earth suffering from diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as depression or traumatic brain injury.”  Currently, they have exposed mice to similar amounts of radiation that the astronauts will receive and found, “their learning, memory, multitasking, cognitive flexibility in changing situations and even behavioral adaptation were altered or negatively impacted.”  As the study notes, humans are not mice and our brains are different; however, they do believe this is a good example of the effects radiation will have on our brains.

People and the media rarely want to think of any negatives related to the possibility of doing something that has always been a mythical dream.  Travel to Mars will happen.  NASA is working on technology to eliminate radiation exposure and to prevent the negative effects of the radiation exposure that will occur during the trip to the Red Planet and on the surface of the planet.  (Mars has three ozone layers, but still less ozone protection than the Earth.)  NASA has already set a manned mission to Mars for the 2030’s.  People just need to let the scientists, and their mice, at NASA find a way to make this international orbital journey to Mars safe for all those aboard.  In the meantime, their research can help humans on Earth, astronauts or not, who suffer from brain injury and other neurological issues.

* Some have proposed that the first trip to Mars be a one-way trip, meaning that astronauts would travel to Mars to permanently inhabit the planet.  While this may be the most cost-effective way for people to travel to the Red Planet, proponents of this idea do not consider many of the risks involved in an interplanetary trip.  For example, the organization Mars One, led by Dutch billionaire Bas Lansdorp, has promised to colonize Mars by 2026.  On the Project’s website, there is a page that answers the question: How safe is the journey?  According to the site, the following risks are conceivable: accident(s) during launch, vital components could malfunction during the journey there, a number of issues might present themselves when entering Mars’ atmosphere, and there could be problems when landing.  The page does not mention the certainty of radiation absorption while on the trip to the planet.