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Michael Phelan
Michael Phelan
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An Open Letter to the American Association for Justice: Reactivate the Trial Lawyers Care Volunteer Project to Help Brain-Injured Iraq War Soldiers

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I read with disgust the latest news account of how the Pentagon is failing to provide necessary medical care for soldiers who suffer brain injuries in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Largely because of the improvised explosive devices used by Iraq insurgents, traumatic brain injury has become the signature wound of the Iraq War. In an article titled, “For War’s Gravely Injured, Challenge to Find Care,” the New York Times reports that brain-injured soldiers are either written off prematurely by the Veterans Administration hospitals or not given aggressive rehabilitation options for care. The criticism of the VA, which was echoed on the Sunday morning talk shows by former Senator Bob Dole, is the government should have joined forces with civilian brain-injury treatment rehabilitation centers in time to care for these soldiers.

The NY Times article focuses on the story of Staff Sgt. Jarod Behee, who was shot in the head during his second tour in Iraq. The VA hospital in Palo Alto, California told Sgt. Behee’s wife “that Jarod was not making adequate progress and that the next step was a nursing home.” The hospital staff issued Sgt. Behee a wheelchair , and believed he would never walk again. Mrs. Behee said, “I just felt that it was unfair for them to throw in the towel on him. I said, ‘We’re out of here.'” So, Mrs. Behee quit her job, fought the Army’s efforts to retire her husband into the VA health care system, and discovered that his military insurance policy actually covered private care [a fact not presented to her by the government]. She moved Sgt. Behee into a private rehabilitation center, and,three months later, her husband was walking. Sgt. Behee has permanent cognitive impairments, but is working in the rehab center as a volunteer.

Today, I sent a letter to the President of the President of the American Association for Justice asking him to reactivate the Trial Lawyers Care program (TLC). TLC was organized by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (now American Association for Justice) to mobilize volunteer trial lawyers to assist families of people killed or injured by the 911 terrorist attacks. Volunteers like myself represented the families in their claims for compensation under the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001. This was the most rewarding work in my professional career, and I’m sure all of the other TLC volunteers felt the same way. I’m also sure the same volunteers would line up to help our brave soldiers. I call on my fellow trial lawyers to join me in beseeching the American Association for Justice to reactivate Trial Lawyers Care!