March is Brain Injury Awareness Month and the Alabama Head Injury Foundation (AHIF) reports that more than 10,000 people sustain a brain injury every year, statewide. The AHIF, a nonprofit organization, and the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services (ADRS) are the only groups in the state that provide services to meet the needs of clients with brain injuries and their families.
There are two types of brain injury –acquired and traumatic brain injuries. Acquired brain injury occurs after birth and is not hereditary, congenital or degenerative. It takes place at the cellular level within the brain. Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are caused by a blow or other head trauma that changes how a brain normally functions. Someone who has experienced a TBI may appear to be well, but they may suffer short- or long-term changes that affect thinking, sensation, language or even emotions, creating depression, aggression and other forms of unusual behavior.
Some of the firm’s clients have suffered TBIs and it is through their experiences that the firm understands the severity of the injuries and the importance of access to services. In fact, Beasley Allen’s Mike Andrews (AHIF’s Board of Directors), Stephanie Monplaisir (AHIF Montgomery Chapter president), and Evan Allen (AHIF Montgomery Chapter board member) support the AHIF’s work, providing leadership and guidance on its state and local boards.
The AHIF’s clients typically have more severe injuries and suffer long-term effects. AHIF currently provides services to more than 4,500 clients across the state. The foundation arms clients and their families with information to help them understand the results of an injury and makes experts specializing in brain injury available. It also provides access to other resources, services and programs that meet clients’ unique needs.
“Most people know someone affected by traumatic brain injury,” said AHIF executive director Scott Powell. “The client’s life is changed forever, and their family also experiences the impact of a brain injury. Our goal is to help those injured live as independently as possible. And, the services we provide also reduces the costs our clients need from other state funded programs.”
Funding Brain Injury Programs
For 25 years, state funding has helped offset costs of brain injury programs and services. In 1992, the Alabama Legislature charged the state’s Impaired Drivers Trust Fund (IDTF) advisory board with “facilitating a comprehensive system of services for Alabamians with head and spinal cord injury.” Working with the ADRS, the board distributes money collected from convictions of people driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs. The following year lawmakers imposed an additional $100 fine on DUI convictions. Money collected from the additional fine is designated to help cover the costs of care for “Alabamians who survive neurotrauma with head or spinal cord injury” including services provided by ADRS and AHIF.
The AHIF is working with Alabama lawmakers to ensure the funding remains available in helping the organization meet the needs of its clients and their families. The law has changed over the years, yet the designation of certain fees to brain and spinal cord injuries remain the same. Companion pieces of legislation, House Bill (HB) 14 and Senate Bill (SB) 264, seek to clarify that the fees collected for DUI convictions and the distribution of those fees have not changed. The identical bills were filed in each house to increase the likelihood of passage since the legislative process can be in slower in one chamber than the other. HB 14 has moved faster, and the group is hopeful it will be poised for passage before the end of the legislative session.
“Our clients still have much to contribute to society, but they do need our help. The legislation, once it hopefully becomes law, will make sure that we can continue to assist them when they don’t have other places to turn for help,” said Powell.
Alabama Head Injury Foundation
Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services
Alabama Legislature Online