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House Increases FY2013 VTRP Funding by $5 Million to $10 Million Total

Legislative Update
July 19, 2012

Yesterday, during debate on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 Department of Defense (DOD) Appropriations bill, the House of Representatives increased funding for the DOD’s Vision Trauma Research Program (VTRP) from $5 million to $10 million. Congressman Tim Walz (D-MN), who is the highest ranking enlisted veteran ever to serve in Congress, offered the amendment to increase the funding level that had originally been set by the House Appropriations Committee at $5 million during its markup of the bill. The amendment was approved on a voice vote and today, the House passed the full bill. The Senate has not yet marked up its Defense spending bill.

NAEVR and its advocacy colleagues had requested FY2013 VTRP funding at $10 million, and Cong. Walz has previously served as the author of a “Dear Colleague” letter to fellow House Members urging VTRP funding at $10 million.

During his floor speech in support of the amendment, Congressman Walz emphasized the high number of troops that have visual dysfunction related to Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and how visual dysfunction can serve as a marker for diagnosis of TBI:

“The brave warriors that sustain these [eye injuries], whether they’re puncture injuries or whether they’re from concussive blast injuries, start to manifest themselves in loss of vision and eye injuries. Of all of the TBIs that happen in the war zone, 70 percent suffer some type of vision loss. The research to deal with this has long-term benefits.

It is, as I said, one of the first indicators of brain injury. We could start to get early treatment on that, and all the research seems to show that cognitive ability is affected positively the sooner we get on top of that.

There is $600 million [funding in the bill] and I know tough decision are made in this bill towards research and battlefield injuries; 15 percent of all those injuries are eye injuries. The $10 million number that we’re requesting gives us basic adequate numbers, a floor number, if you will, to start getting that research done.”

Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) spoke in support of the funding increase and his relationship with a blinded Marine from his district, Lt. Tim Fallon, who lost his vision in combat operations in Afghanistan in 2010. Cong. Frelinghuysen, who serves on the DOD Appropriations subcommittee, has also been a champion of the VTRP.

A number of other amendments that increased DOD’s medical research programs were accepted, including one that increased the Traumatic Brain Injury/Psychological Health (TBI/PH) research program by $10 million to $135 million. The TBI/PH research program usually includes research addressing visual dysfunction related to TBI as one of its research areas and has, in the past, transferred funding over to DOD’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC, which manages the VTRP budget) to fund additional TBI-related visual dysfunction research grants that could not be funded within the VTRP allocation.

On Friday July 20th, The Washington Post had a story about the increase in funding for the VTRP.