Is it a New Cold War or Nothing?

The Associated Press has released audio of mysterious sounds that some US diplomats and their families , as well as Canadian diplomats and families, were unknowingly subjected to in Cuba before suffering a variety of neurological problems, reports various sources.  (Click link to hear sound.)  “Some can no longer remember words, while others have hearing loss, speech problems, balance issues, nervous-system damage, headaches, ringing in the ears, and nausea. Some have shown signs of brain swelling or concussions — mild traumatic brain injuries.”  News in North America since last year, it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that the US State Department determined that it was most likely that these problems were “specific attacks”.  (Most likely from the Cuban government, but environmental issues or simply human error could cause such problems, too.)  Though it is known that audible attacks can be a weapon, the exact weapon used in this instance is still not known or understood.

There have been some studies showing that sound can cause brain injuries.  A study conducted by the University of Texas in 2014, for example, showed that, “prolonged exposure to loud noise alters how the brain processes speech, potentially increasing the difficulty in distinguishing speech sounds.”  Such a conclusion goes way beyond the general thought that prolonged exposure to loud noise results in hearing loss.  Additionally, there already words to describe some of the problems people have with sound.  Misophonia, literally “hatred of sound”, was proposed in 2000 as a condition in which negative emotions, thoughts, and physical reactions are triggered by specific sounds.  The more likely culprit is hyperacusis, a “debilitating hearing disorder characterized by an increased sensitivity to certain frequencies and volume ranges of sound (a collapsed tolerance to usual environmental sound).”  Causes of hyperacusis include, but are not limited to, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

However, the United States government is not wholly confident that sound caused these brain injuries.  Since there is very little way to determine if such sound came at the direction of the Cuban government or by it, it is important not to draw final conclusions.  Still, the United States has severely shrunk its embassy staff in Cuba.  Earlier this month, President Trump expelled 15 Cuban diplomats from the United States.  Additionally, since September 29, 2017, “The Department of State warns U.S. citizens not to travel to Cuba.”

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Trauma on Trumpcare

Update: Today, “President Donald Trump asked Republican senators not to leave town for their August recess without passing a health care reform plan that makes good on seven years of promises to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.”

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Since 2010, health care has been a top talking point for both general Americans and the American government.  Then, Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, was enacted without a single Republican vote.  Now, the current iteration of Trumpcare, H.R. 1628, has passed the House and seeks to pass the Senate without the support of a single Democrat Senator.  Increasingly though, it is losing Republican support*, as Senators wrangle with the idea on Medicaid cuts and other issues.  (According to a recent report, the bill would cut Medicaid funding for children by at least $43 billion over 10 years.)

Throughout the country, articles continue to show the need for Medicaid for many Americans, often showcasing the needs of the brain injured.  The website MyCentralJersey.com (part of the USA Today network) highlights a 22-year-old and his mother who spoke to members of Congress about the ongoing trauma that the family deals with, caused by an accident that occurred when the boy was 18.  “Many families… will face major health care challenges.  It is important to protect Medicaid to allow these families to focus on their child’s care and recovery,” said the mother.  An article published on cleveland.com highlights the care of a severely brain injured man who lives in a nursing home, but whose family worries he won’t be able to stay at the facility with the proposed Medicaid cut.  A New York-based newspaper notes a 9-year-old girl who survived a horse-back riding accident with the financial support of Medicaid.

Yesterday, Trump expressed his frustration on Twitter with passing this bill.  “Most Republicans were loyal…,” he wrote, as a criticism of those Republicans who did not express support for the law.  However, this statement appears to show that Trump is looking for support to him and party, when he should be seeking support and loyalty towards the American people.

(Notably, Arizona Senator John McCain just underwent surgery yesterday to rid his head or his left eye, both have been reported, from blood clots.  While the specifics of his initial condition and the exact surgical procedure he underwent remains vague, it is concerning.  Because of McCain, the vote on this health care bill has been delayed.  It will be interesting, though, to see if McCain’s ordeal affects his views. )

* Yesterday, “Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) [a staunch conservative] and Jerry Moran (Kan.) issued statements declaring that they would not vote for the revamped measure.  They joined Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Susan Collins (Maine), who also oppose it.”  A significant amount of other Republicans have also not declared their support.

North Korean Trauma

An American university student who was returned to the United States this week after being held in North Korea for 17 months has a severe brain injury and is in a state of ‘unresponsive wakefulness’,” doctors told Reuters yesterday.  Specifically, Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old student of the University of Virginia, was returned to America and is now a patient at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he shows no understanding of any communication around him.  Given the limited amount of information provided by Kim Jong Un’s Korean military, the exact cause of Warmbier’s comatose state is not known.  However, one of the top assumptions is that his condition is the result of a traumatic brain injury.

Warmbier, originally from Wyoming, Ohio, has been in a coma for more than a year, shortly after he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a propaganda sign in North Korea, where he was a tourist.  (I assume that Warmbier stole the sign as a unique type of memorabilia, so he would always remember his once-in-a-lifetime trip.)

This week, the Warmbier family received a call from President Trump, which they termed “kind” of him.  On Wednesday, Secretary of State Tillerson said that America is now considering travel visa restrictions for North Korea.  (Before all of this, last month, a bill was introduced that would ban United States citizens from traveling to North Korea.)  The United Nations human rights division is also carrying out a thorough investigation into North Korea’s actions.

Trump Acknowledges Brain Injury Awareness Day

“The White House expressed support for brain injury advocates attending the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force’s (CBITF) Brain Injury Awareness Day on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, March 22.”  To accompany the day, President Trump penned a letter to everyone who participated in the event.  An overview of the letter shows that it largely is a list of facts about brain injury that is available to the public already.  However, there is no letter from an earlier president to compare it with, as the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force was only created in 2012.  (The only letter from President Obama that I can find is a letter applauding the creation of the Task Force.)

An overview of the letter, though, also shows that it is comprised of a ten-line paragraph focused on those who suffer a brain injury while serving in the military.  While I am definitely not dismissing those who suffer a brain injury while on the call of duty, the following paragraph that focuses on civilians with brain injury is only five sentences.  As for statistics, the Center of Disease Control estimates that 1.7 million Americans sustain a brain injury each year .  The Department of Defense estimates that about 17,500 soldiers suffered a brain injury last year.    Unfortunately, that means that the percentage of soldiers who are afflicted by a brain injury is much higher; however, the number of civilian Americans who suffer from brain injuries is still a higher number and much more present.  The focus on the military makes sense for Trump though, as military is one of the chief priorities of the Trump Presidency.

I am not sure what would have made this acknowledgement letter something that the brain injury community and all concerned Americans satisfied and, in fact, there is no singular answer to that.  Even if you disagree with the exact wording of the letter, the fact that the President is recognizing that brain injury is a very important and serious issue in America is a definite positive.

Trump Seeks to Shrink BRAIN (Funding)

A few weeks ago, President Trump submitted his proposed budget to Congress.  Related to health issues, President Trump’s budget:

Reduces the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) spending relative to the 2017 annualized
CR level by $5.8 billion to $25.9 billion. The Budget includes a major reorganization of NIH’s
Institutes and Centers to help focus resources on the highest priority research and training
activities, including: eliminating the Fogarty International Center; consolidating the Agency for
Healthcare Research and Quality within NIH; and other consolidations and structural changes
across NIH organizations and activities. The Budget also reduces administrative costs and
rebalance Federal contributions to research funding.

Read full text here

President Trump’s proposed budget would include a massive reduction of funding to the NIH and, though not specifically mentioned in the written, public-version of the budget, a reduction in funding for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN).  In response, a bipartisan group of Representatives, including  U.S. Representatives Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), Tim Murphy (R-PA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) sent a letter to Rep. Cole and Rep. DeLauro, president and ranking member, respectively, of the Labor Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee urging a stay of current funding for the National Institute of Health’s BRAIN.  Pascrell is, of course, the founder and co-chair of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force.

(As reported last year, Presidents Obama’s 2017 budget increased the funding for BRAIN.)

Update: Tax Returns Could Trump Trump’s Philanthropy Claims

Donald Trump often speaks of all the donations he makes to various charities.  In January, Trump held a fundraiser for at least 40 veterans-focused nonprofits, which raised $4.5, $5.5, $5.6 or $6 million, depended on which member of his staff you ask and when you ask them.  Some of this money was donated by Trump himself, with the majority of the money coming from fundraiser attendees.  The Bob Woodruff Foundation received a check for $75,000, which Woodruff said, “We can put it to very good use to help our vets and their families.” Also, in May, “[Trump] gave $1 million to a nonprofit group helping veterans’ families.”

Recently, The Wall Street Journal looked into the history of donations from the self-proclaimed philanthropist to all charities throughout the years.  The title of the article that followed this investigation is “Trump promised millions to charity.  We found less than $10,000 over 7 years.”  (I think the title of this story explains the findings of the Journal, although it can neither be proven nor repudiated without Trump’s tax returns.)

Update: In March 2017, head of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, Pascrell, 163 Bipartisan Colleagues [Called] on Congress to Request Trump Tax Returns.  In actuality, the call for tax returns was only requested by two Republicans, Mark Sanford (R-SC) and Walter B. Jones (R-NC).  However, the request must be approved by the Senate Finance Committee and the Ways and Mean Committee, who are chaired by Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Kevin Brady (R-TX), respectively, to submit a formal request to the Secretary of the Treasury.

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.

“Concussion. Oh, oh!” says Trump

Beyond commenting on the “softening” of the NFL, Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for President has essentially ignored those with brain injury during his campaign.  Last week in Florida, though, Donald Trump spoke of brain injury at a rally in Florida when, “a woman who had fainted [during a Trump rally]… returned to the crowd.”  Commenting on her return, Trump said, “That woman was out cold, and now she’s coming back.”  While there is nothing wrong with that statement, he then returned to a topic he spoke of earlier in his campaign: namely, he spoke of the “softening” of the NFL, with its new post-concussion regulations.

Through continual blows to the head, NFL players are prone to CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).  Harry Carson, a former Hall of Fame linebacker for the New York Giants who developed CTE, said in response to Trump’s views, “Once the brain is injured, you [can] never recover… So to make light of it, there’s a certain amount of ignorance that’s there.”  Carson also noted that many children look up to and try to imitate the actions of NFL players, which may lead to concussions and other brain injuries in them.

Political commentators always note when a candidate changes his or her views on a topic.  Trump, however, has stayed consistently pro-neurological disorder on this subject.  This opinion, though, expresses a disregard for Americans, merely for his entertainment.

The Deciding Vote?

I have only posted twice in this month for a simple reason – politicians, including political candidates, largely ignore the disabled vote while speaking and/or campaigning.  A blog entry on the Huffington Post site explains it well, and though this article is from last year, the statements stay true and relevant.  The number of disabled Americans is unfortunately large and continues to increase. Clinton’s lead in the polls is small.  True, “[in the 2012 President election}, the voter turnout rate of people with disabilities was 5.7 percentage points lower than that of people without disabilities.”  However, that means that 15.6% of disabled Americans did vote.  This year, the number of disabled voters will likely vastly increase, just as it will for the generally population.  Ultimately, the disabled vote could make the difference in who becomes the next Commander-in-Chief of the United States.