The Senate is close to meeting the military brain-injury challenge it nearly failed. Three weeks ago, lawmakers and the Pentagon drew fire for trying to halve the $14 million budget of the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, which treats soldiers returning from Iraq, by leaving $7 million out of this year’s defense appropriations bill. It made no sense to cut so critical a program, which costs less than 0.002 percent of the $468 billion bill. Thankfully, the cut is being corrected thanks to Sen. George Allen’s amendment this week.
Mr. Allen stepped up Tuesday with a measure to reverse the funding cut and add new money, increasing the center’s budget to $19 million. The measure passed by unanimous consent late Wednesday night. The bill is expected to reach the floor later this month.
We spoke this week with the co-founder of the Brain Injury Center, Dr. George Zitnay, who said that the $5 million net increase in funding will be used to hire more doctors and staffers, treat more soldiers and pay for a series of forward-looking research projects — including tissue engineering, drug research and studies on antibiotics and disorders of the central nervous system, and a look at potential injury prevention that already is in development. “It’s important to remember that with brain injury, the treatment doesn’t stop,” Dr. Zitnay said.
The bipartisan Allen amendment had a burgeoning list of cosponsors, including Sens. Dick Durbin, Ted Stevens and a host of Democrats, such as Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Barack Obama.
Of course, no issue is above political mudslinging, so Mr. Allen’s challenger, James Webb, couldn’t resist slinging his share over a manufactured “Whose idea was it?” controversy. Mr. Webb’s campaign sent e-mails Tuesday and Wednesday claiming that Mr. Allen “stole” the idea from Mr. Durbin.
Note to Mr. Webb: This is precisely the type of unserious Washington infighting that turns the stomachs of ordinary voters. Even assuming that Mr. Webb’s allegation were true, so what? No one cares whose idea it was; voters only care that it gets done. How ironic that Mr. Webb, a combat-injured Vietnam veteran who fancies himself a political outsider, would get himself so entrapped in inside-the-Beltway politics.
A final observation: It’s remarkable that in an election year dominated by war and national security issues we would even need to pressure the Senate to fund the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. This program should never, ever have fallen victim to routine budget cuts.