Ensuring Care

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News November 2015

Along with the extended lives of WW II paralyzed veterans comes a requirement for more resources that meet their unique and complex needs

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Nov. 11 has become a day to thank and honor all those who served honorably in the military and acknowledge their contributions to our national security.

As we gather to celebrate veterans of all eras, the time to recognize those who served in World War II is running short. The average age of a WWII veteran is 93 and we’re losing them at a rate of more than 500 per day. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates less than 1 million of the 16 million Americans who served during WWII are still alive.

Currently, there are 246 Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) members who served during WWII and many are at the point in their lives where they need more attentive care than what’s available at home. Dreading community nursing homes where the nuances of spinal-cord injury (SCI) are often unheeded, moving into one of the VA’s SCI centers is their only option.

One such WWII veteran is Capt. William Bramwell, who sustained a SCI after bailing out of his ill-fated B-17 in 1943 over German-occupied Belgium. Despite his paralysis, he survived more than a year as a prisoner of war and returned to a grateful America.

Over the next 70 years, Capt. Bramwell lived a pretty normal life. But after sustaining a serious injury from a fall, he checked into the Long Beach (Calif.) VA’s SCI center, which became his new home. Capt. Bramwell has remained at the SCI center because of his declining health and the lack of options in the community.
Nevertheless, his longevity despite being paralyzed needs to be highlighted. Born in 1917, Capt. Bramwell is the oldest living member of PVA and, at the age of 98, has exceeded the average U.S. life expectancy by 20 years!  

Those in Capt. Bramwell’s generation who survived the first couple years of SCI were rewarded with poor quality of life. However, with the advances in medical care, the average age of PVA members is increasing. Still, with near-normal life expectancy comes other challenges for veterans and medical facilities.
Along with the extended lives of WWII paralyzed veterans comes a requirement for more resources that meet their unique and complex needs. For example, availability of long-term care beds is reaching critical levels.

The VA has about 30,000 long-term care beds, but only 150 are equipped for those with SCI. Construction for some new VA facilities has reached a standstill and shortages in medical staff remain to plague a system of care that’s top-heavy with non-clinical managers.
To make matters worse, the movement to privatize an increasing number of the VA’s health care functions remains a concern for PVA. Yet, there’s no better system of care for extending the lives of veterans with SCI than the VA.  

On Sept. 9, the VA Long Beach Healthcare System officially opened the doors of its new SCI Long-Term Care Unit. It’s the sixth in the nation, and the only one west of the Mississippi River. This state-of-the-art unit is an overdue addition to an already stellar system of care. This center has a reputation for successfully rehabilitating SCI veterans for 70 years. The dedicated interdisciplinary team approach ensures SCI veterans are getting the proper preparation before they’re discharged.

Unlike many other SCI centers, Long Beach also provides care for ventilator-dependent patients proving that the experienced bedside nurses have a long-standing record in promoting quality of care regardless of a patient’s level of injury. I praise the work of this dedicated staff; they’re the reason our members are living longer.

It may have taken 10 years to build, but PVA is proud to see the clinical and architectural expertise we provided finally pay off. Capt. Bramwell was the first to be admitted to Long Beach’s SCI Long-Term Care Unit and I’m sure he would admit it was worth the long wait.

Whether it’s the Greatest Generation or the latest generation, PVA is committed to ensuring every generation of veterans come home and enjoy the opportunity to live the American Dream they helped defend.


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