April 7, 2009 – Washington, DC — It took nearly 10 months before doctors thought to give Glenn Minney an MRI after he lost his vision as a result of a blast wound suffered at Haditha Dam, Iraq.
Minney and other blind veterans hope it won’t take that long to get $5 million of federal money to keep other veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan from suffering a similar fate.
In federal funding, $5 million isn’t much. That’s why U.S. Rep. David Hobson, R-Springfield, is mystified that a line in last year’s Defense Authorization bill creating a resource center for blind veterans was taken out right before the bill passed. Hobson and his staff are studying how to secure the funding.
Minney, of Frankfort, was injured in April 2005, when he was standing on Haditha Dam as it took a mortar round. At first he felt fine. But the next day, his eyes were scratchy and red. His eyesight gradually got worse, but at first doctors couldn’t find anything, so they treated him — twice — for pinkeye.
Then he started to lose his sight. They shipped him to Germany, then to Washington D.C. At first they told him he was healing. But by September, he had lost his sight.
One day, Minney was told that he had to lay flat and face down for one to three months. The next day, he was told to report for duty.
Then there was inevitable confusion over whether he should be treated by Veterans Affairs Medical Centers or under active duty care.
Meanwhile, no one could figure out why Minney had lost his sight. That finally changed in February 2006, when he received an MRI at Camp Lejeune. That’s when they discovered he had a loss of brain tissue in the occipital lobe, which works the eyes, as well as the parietal lobe.
Minney is by no means the only Iraq war veteran whose war injuries include devastating eye injuries. Tom Zampieri of the Blinded Veterans Association said 1,162 evacuated from Iraq or Afghanistan between March 19, 2003, and Sept. 17, 2007, had sustained direct eye trauma. That doesn’t count people like Minney, who’ve lost sight because of traumatic brain injury.
Zampieri cites the case of a 32-year-old veteran who lost his sight and, finding that his friends no longer visited him and he couldn’t drive, committed suicide.
“When you have eye trauma, there are no pills that are going to fix that,” he said.
Zampieri hopes that this year, he’ll be successful in securing the $5 million in federal funds, which would create a “Military Eye Trauma Center of Excellence” that could become a resource for doctors. To Minney, $5 million is a small price for the government to pay.
“I never said it was too costly,” he said. “So why should these agencies say the same thing to me?”