Casey Urges VA to Speed Implementation of Successful Program Helping Western PA Vets Recover from Strokes

Experimental Program Has Helped Vets Regain Speech, But High Demand Has Left Some Vets Waiting for Care

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) is urging the Department of Veterans Affairs to speed up implementation of a new, highly successful experimental program that is helping veterans in western Pennsylvania recover from debilitating strokes.

The experimental program, known as the Program for Intensive Residential Aphasia Treatment and Education (PIRATE), helps veterans recover from aphasia, a crippling sickness that takes away one’s ability to communicate.

“The VA must do everything it can to more quickly bring this life changing care to our veterans in western Pennsylvania,” Senator Casey said. “A stroke is a truly debilitating, but breakthroughs in treatment are changing what we know about living with the consequences of a stroke. The VA needs to implement and expand this program as quickly as possible to ensure this care gets to our veterans who need it.”

In a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Senator Casey urged the VA to examine what it can do to speed up implementation and expansion of this program to shorten the waitlist and help a greater number of veterans in need of this treatment. 

The program’s incredible success has produced increased demand for treatment among veterans, but the current pace in implementing this experimental program has left a waiting list of 17 in Western Pennsylvania’s VA Health System. Currently, the program can only serve two veterans at a time, but a ramped up implementation process would allow more veterans to be served.

Aphasia is a language disorder resulting from brain damage — most often from a left-hemisphere stroke — that impairs communication. This can range from mild word-finding difficulty to a complete inability to speak, understand, read or write. Cognitive abilities in other areas remain relatively well preserved. 

PIRATE provides treatment to Veterans with aphasia which impairs one’s ability to understand, speak, read and write. PIRATE aims to provide access to effective, evidence-based speech and language intervention services to Veterans with aphasia, and to inform health care providers about available treatment options.

With the program in its experimental stage, Senator Casey urged the Veteran’s Administration to ramp up the program’s implementation so that more veterans can be served at one time.

The full text of Casey’s letter to Secretary Shinseki can be seen below:

Dear Secretary Shinseki:

I am writing in regards to an experimental intensive therapy program being conducted at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, the Program for Intensive Residential Aphasia Treatment and Education (PIRATE).  As you know, this is a program that assists people suffering from aphasia, which can render someone mute, and is often caused by a stroke.  It is my understanding that approximately 12,000 veterans are admitted to VA facilities every year for strokes, and of those 20 to 35 percent of those have aphasia. Through the PIRATE treatment, which involves one-on-one therapy for five six-hour sessions a week, the ability to communicate is restored leading to an improved quality of life. 

Unfortunately, as is often the case with new treatments that have great success there is a waiting list for this treatment at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.  Accordingly, I am requesting that the Veterans Administration look into what it can do to speed up implementation and expansion of this program to shorten the waitlist and help a greater number of veterans in need of this treatment. 

I appreciate your attention to this issue and look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Robert P. Casey, Jr.

United States Senator

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