First recognized in 2009, the CDC designates March as Brain Injury Awareness Month in order to “protect kids and teens by raising awareness and informing action to improve prevention, recognition, and response to concussion and other serious brain injuries.” This year, the awareness month has been entitled “HEADS UP!”, as it primarily involves educational activities about concussion diagnosis and treatment. As information regarding the month’s Awareness activities becomes available, this blog will update this post. (View this year’s Facebook page about the month.)
Dr. Joseph J. Fins is a nationally-known and well-esteemed physician specializing in neuroethics. Specifically, he is, “focused on advancing the care of patients with severe brain injury and bringing the fruits of neuroscience to a very marginalized population”. Beyond heading a Division at the New York Presbyterian Hospital and Cornell and other prestigious appointments, he was appointed by President Bill Clinton to The White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
In 2015, Fins published a book, Rights Come to Mind: Brain Injury, Ethics, and the Struggle for Consciousness that encapsulates his interviews with more than 50 families, who are all personally affected by severe brain injury. A particular story in an article about the book caught my eye: “Several years ago a father approached me, concerned about the care his son was receiving. The son had been in a car accident… was placed in a nursing home… The father feared his son was being ignored or, worse, left in pain or distress.”
As with many brain injured individuals, I have a similar story. To be candid about my experience, within a day or two of my brain injury, because of the severity of my injuries, the doctor handling my case asked my parents if they would sign off to allow my organs to be donated upon my imminent death. Fortunately, my parents said no and immediately requested another neurologist to handle my case. I was lucky to have parents who were so forthcoming regarding their expectations from my doctors. The article, Why advances in treating those with brain injuries require advances in respecting their rights, shows that the mentioned father loved his son very much, but it does not state what happened with his son beyond the father’s fear. (One can only hope for the best.) I find that it advances understanding and can even be reassuring to learn about others’ brain injury survival stories.
The world seems to be gaining more knowledge of brain injury. For example, the recently passed federal 21st Century Cures Act allocates $1.5 billion for brain research. “New treatments bring new hope,” and hopefully, more understanding and acceptance. As a brain injured person myself, I definitely plan on reading this book.
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.
There is a “day/week/month” to celebrate or draw attention to everything. For example, October 14th, was National Dessert Day.* So, get some of your leftover ice cream and take a look at the information included in this article regarding an awareness month in October: National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).
NDEAM is led by the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). The purpose of ODEP is “to invest in systems change efforts that result in increased community-based, integrated employment opportunities for individuals with significant disabilities.” (My question is who is to determine what “significant disability” means?) The theme of NDEAM in 2016 is #InclusionWorks. According to the Department of Labor, that means inclusion into all facets of work – business, opportunity and innovation. If you look through the NDEAM page on the DOL website, you will see that the government has various suggestions on how employers should commemorate NDEAM: review policies, establish an ERG, create a display, train supervisors, educate employees, publish articles, feature NDEAM in social media activities, and participate in disability mentoring day. (Given the abysmal employment numbers for the disabled, I think it’s really the employers that need to be educated on the abilities of the disabled, not just the employees.)
As positive as NDEAM is, its effectiveness is questionable. According to a recent news release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of unemployed disabled Americans was 8.7% in September 2016. In September 2015, this number was 10.4%. For non-disabled Americans, the unemployment rate went from 4.7% in September 2015 to 4.6% this year. It may seem that, in the past year, the disabled have had an easier time gaining employment, but the unemployment rate for the disabled is still twice the number of that of the general population and even this number’s validity is questionable. People are only considered unemployed if they have been looking for work within the past 4 weeks and, after years of unemployment, one may no longer search for employment every month. (On the other hand, there are only certain activities the government considers “actively searching for work,” so some people, disabled and not, may have been searching for work in other ways.) For many disabled, they have been unemployed for much longer than a month. For this and other similar reasons, many disabled are simply considered “not in the labor force”. (Approximately 30% of working-age Americans are considered “not in the workforce”. For the disabled, this number is about 80%.)
Neither President Obama nor any former President is to blame, per se, for America’s seemingly ineffectiveness disability-related employment policies. Really, no one is to blame. In fact, compared to 70+ years ago, the disabled are now treated with much more respect. Recognized in various forms since 1945, politicians and the public simply don’t know what to do to properly “celebrate” NDEAM. As you will see in my next posts, politicians throughout the years have simply not known what to do to help the America’s ever-increasing disabled population in relation to employment issues.
* Specifically related to TBI, the world honors Brain Injury Awareness Day on March 22.
Today, I found a story, Brain injury: A public health crisis in the spotlight, that encapsulates many of the statistics and information surrounding brain injury within the public and government. This article, an opinion piece that is filled with facts, is linked to in this post and can be later found on the “Brain Injury Statistics” page of this site.