ARVO President Dr. Steven Fliesler Advocates for Military Eye Trauma Research Funding
February 21, 2019
Left to right: Blinded veteran Steven Baskis (U.S. Army Private First Class, retired) joined ARVO President Steven J. Fliesler, PhD (SUNY-Buffalo/VA Medical Center-Buffalo) outside the office of Cong. Charlie Crist (R-FL), a new member of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, during Congressional visits to advocate for military eye trauma research funding
On February 19, Thomas Zampieri, PhD of NAEVR member organization Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) hosted the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) 2018-2019 President Steven J. Fliesler, PhD (SUNY-Buffalo/VA Medical Center-Buffalo, who also serves on the NAEVR Board of Directors) and blinded veteran Steven Baskis (U.S. Army Private First Class, retired) in Congressional office visits to advocate for military eye trauma research funding. Specifically, the advocates requested Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 funding of at least $20 million for the Department of Defense's (DOD) Vision Research Program (VRP), which was created by Congress in FY2009 as part of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) through NAEVR advocacy [see box below]. The VRP, which funds research into DOD-identified gaps in military eye trauma researchincluding visual dysfunction from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) grew in funding to $20 million in FY2019 appropriations, which was a $5 million increase over FY2018.
Dr. Fliesler, a VA-funded blast injury researcher with a lab at the Buffalo VA Medical Center (VA Western New York Healthcare System) who also serves as the Research Stakeholder Representative to the VRP Programmatic Committee, and Mr. Baskis, who served as a Security Specialist in Baghdad, Iraq until he was blinded in 2008 by an improvised explosive device, met with the staff from key offices of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee including Cong. Tom Cole (R-OK), who has championed VRP funding in past appropriations cycles as well as staff from the House Veterans Affairs Committee and House Armed Services Committee. In their visits, the advocates cited a recent Military Medicine journal article based on a 2018 AEVR update of NAEVR's 2012 Cost of Military Eye Injury study that projected the total cost to the economy in the 2000-2017 timeframe from combat-related eye injuries at $41.47 billion, with $40.2 billion of that cost reflecting the present value of a lifetime of long-term benefits, lost wages, and family care expenses.
After the Hill visits, Dr. Fliesler commented that, On almost a daily basis, working at the Buffalo VA Medical Center, I see veterans who have experienced vision loss, ranging from seniors with age-related eye diseases to young vets, such as Steve Baskis, who have vision loss or impairment due to trauma, including penetrating and non-penetrating eye injuries from blasts or TBI-related disorders that manifest with light sensitivity (photophobia) or inability to read print. As a research advocate, I was pleased to join with Steve, a patient advocate, and Tom to educate the offices of these key leaders about the importance of VRP funded research to better address these life-changing conditions.
Since FY2009, the VRP has funded 85 awards reflecting $85 million in funding. NAEVR is pleased to partner with BVA and ARVO, as well as the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Optometric Association, in its annual advocacy for the VRP. These efforts have also been supplemented by the FY2020 issue of the Independent Budget (IB), a biennial set of recommendations to Congress regarding Department of Veterans Affairs funding which is developed by Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars and supported by 24 other Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) and Military Service Organizations (MSOs), including BVA and NAEVR, which has once again called for $20 million in VRP funding. .