LINCOLN--More than 36,000 Nebraskans live with brain injuries each year, but few have access to the proper resources.
Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln said she hopes LB227 -- which would establish a Brain Injury Council and Brain Injury Trust Fund -- would change that.
"This would help all Nebraskans dealing with effects of traumatic brain injury," Wishart said.
The council and trust fund would be created by using an existing four-year federal grant, she said. Friday's hearing on her bill was her first hearing as a senator.
There were no opponents to the bill, but several testified in favor of it, including representatives from the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital, the Brain Injury Alliance of Nebraska and the Nebraska Medical Association.
Peggy Reisher, executive director of the Brain Injury Alliance of Nebraska, said the nonprofit is manned by three full-time employees and three part-time employees. They help people who call asking how to set up Medicaid, how to find transportation services, where to get specific mental or physical health services, among other requests.
She said it would be accurate to refer to them as the "middlemen" because many victims of traumatic brain injuries aren't sure how to find the services they need. They serve anyone with a brain injury, regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic status or race.
"Brain injury does not discriminate," Reisher said.
The council proposed by LB227 would help decide how to allocate the funds. Proponents of the bill said that they plan to raise money for the trust fund to continue efforts started under the legislation after the four-year grant runs out.
Much of the money would be used to hire individuals who would work one-on-one with families or people who are victims of a traumatic brain injury to help them find the resources they need.
People who had personal experiences with traumatic brain injuries, or whose family members had them, also testified in favor of the bill.
One witness, Jim Peterson, spoke about his son-in-law, Ben, who was in a car accident shortly after getting engaged. After months of treatment in various hospitals, he was released. He got married, and he and his wife had a daughter.
But several years later, effects of the brain injury still plagued him. He began struggling with substance abuse issues and was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
The family spent months seeking help before Ben was put in jail and, as a result, finally received the treatment he needed.
"What's unfortunate is that it takes more behavioral issues in order to get the individual into the system," Peterson said.
Ben can't work anymore. He lives by himself, and his mother is his legal guardian. Peterson said he doesn't know if things might've been different for Ben had the services been available at the start.
"LB 227 is a necessary program that is the beginning of finding hope for all families in Nebraska that are going through these experiences," Peterson said.
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