Opinion Pieces

Haley’s rehab center shows our continuing commitment to troops

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Tampa, May 26, 2014 | comments

By U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, published in The Tampa Tribune on Memorial Day 2014

The Tampa Bay community is well known for taking care of America’s heroes and veterans. We are united in our passion that the brave men and women who protect America receive the top-quality medical care they have earned when they return home.

The recent opening of the Tampa Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa is another monumental step toward that goal. The polytrauma unit serves the most critically wounded soldiers who have lost limbs, or suffer from traumatic brain or spinal cord injuries.

The new, state-of-the art polytrauma rehab center was born out of scandal. In 2007, The Washington Post published a series of articles detailing horrendous conditions at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. The facilities were awful, and the medical care was not up to standard. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I began regular visits to patients and families at Haley, and it was obvious that the busy Tampa VA Center was in need of modernization as well. I met wounded soldiers and veterans ­— and their families — who were suffering from some of the most severe injuries from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were pleased to be recovering in the supportive Tampa Bay area, but I knew we could do better.

The investigation into Walter Reed and other VA centers was detailed, and action was swift. Within weeks, the U.S. House passed the Wounded Warrior Assistance Act, which provided historic improvements to the VA medical and mental health care facilities across America. The extraordinary investment elevated Haley’s polytrauma rehab center into the nation’s most advanced-care hospital for our soldiers and veterans.

I recently took a first-hand look at the new innovative technologies and visited with the medical professionals who provide comprehensive care to our wounded warriors at the polytrauma rehab center. It is gratifying to see it come to fruition, and the level of care has exceeded my expectations.

To everyone at the new polytrauma unit — caring nurses, doctors and therapists, loyal family and friends — thank you. Dr. Steven Scott, who during my early visits to Haley introduced me to the evolving needs of wounded warriors, can take special pride in the modern care provided to America’s heroes.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 13 years have been brutal to the physical and mental health of millions of devoted American service members. The costs have been enormous. Sometimes the rhetoric of “support our troops” fails to translate into concrete actions that sustain our brave men and women in uniform and their families when they return home. Supporting our troops does not mean only that we salute them when joining the battle — it also means that they are supported when they come home, their families are respected, and they receive superior health care for their physical injuries and mental scars.

By providing the leading-edge care they deserve when they return from the battlefield at Haley’s Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center, the Tampa Bay area can be proud that we will continue our commitment when they return home.

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