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VA Boosts Services and Research in Spinal Cord Injury

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( – MILWAUKEE – During a ground-breaking ceremony today for a world-class facility for spinal cord injuries, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson committed the Department of Veterans Affairs ( VA ) to expand programs and open new facilities for seriously disabled veterans with spinal cord injuries.

“VA’s health care facilities provide world-class health care for America’s veterans,” said Nicholson. “Especially for our most seriously disabled veterans, VA is committed to continuing its role as a world leader in treatment and research.”

The new spinal cord injury center at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center is a $32.5 million building and will open by 2010 to replace an existing converted ward in the hospital. It comes on the heels of another ground-breaking by Nicholson just a month ago for a new $20 million spinal cord injury center attached to the VA medical center in Minneapolis.

“VA is the only — and best — resource for a veteran with a spinal cord injury,” said Randy L. Pleva Sr., national president of Paralyzed Veterans of America ( PVA ). “We are proud of the accomplishments of the VA in health care.”

This week, PVA is co-sponsoring with the Milwaukee VA Medical Center the 27th National Veterans Wheelchair Games, an athletic showcase open to veterans with spinal cord injuries and other mobility impairments that celebrates the value of sports in Rehabilitation therapy and fosters better health through sports competition.

VA is a leader in spinal cord injury health care research and rehabilitation, providing a coordinated lifelong continuum of services for eligible veterans with spinal cord injuries of all ages. VA’s expertise in this area ranges from emergency care and surgical stabilization to rehabilitation, preventive care, and long-term care.

The department’s investment in spinal cord injury research is yielding practical medical applications such as reducing pressure ulcers and increasing the use of annual influenza and pneumococcal vaccinations.

VA research on spinal cord injuries is exploring new frontiers such as nerve Regeneration, activity-based therapies that target recovery of standing and walking skills and developing prosthetics that have a direct connection to the nervous system. Last year, VA spent nearly $19 million on 186 research projects relating to central nervous system injury and associated disorders.

Responding to the needs of the latest generation of combat veterans, VA has developed a network of polytrauma rehabilitation centers that bring together specialists in spinal cord injury and other experts into multidisciplinary teams that aid injured troops with other severe disabilities such as traumatic brain injury, amputation, blindness, and complex orthopedic injuries, auditory disorders and mental health concerns.

About 80 percent of veterans with spinal cord injuries and disorders are at least 50 years of age. However, many of the approximately 450 newly injured veterans and active-duty members who received rehabilitation at VA’s spinal cord injury centers last year are young adults.

Treatment and technology have improved so that veterans with spinal cord injuries have increasingly longer life expectancies. Maintaining health, preventive medicine and early treatment of new conditions are important parts of VA’s lifelong care.

Last year, VA provided a full range of care to nearly 26,000 veterans with spinal cord injuries and diseases.

VA’s specialized services are delivered through 135 primary care teams or support clinics for spinal cord injuries at VA medical centers and through 23 regional spinal cord injury centers.

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