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Shepherd Center Supports Georgia Amendment B on Ballot in November

Amendment would direct reckless driving penalty fees to state’s Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund to benefit people living with these injuries.

On Nov. 4, Georgians have an opportunity to extend a helping hand to fellow citizens living with a brain or spinal cord injury.

Shepherd Center asks voters to check “Yes” on their ballot to support Amendment B, which would allow a fee to be assessed on any reckless driving penalty imposed in the state. The fee would be directed to the state’s Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund (BSITF), which administers grants to people with these injuries to cover medical services and equipment not covered by Medicaid, Medicare or private insurance.

People with brain or spinal cord injuries often face a lifetime of challenges and significant medical expenses. BSITF has been able to help Georgians living with these injuries by administering more than $20 million in grants to more than 4,000 eligible citizens since the fund's creation in 1998.

“But funding for BSITF has declined steadily for several years as its sole source of revenue, a fee placed on DUI penalties, has fallen – in part because individuals arrested for DUI are often pleading guilty to the lesser charge of reckless driving instead,” explained Susan Johnson, program director of the Acquired Brain Injury Program at Shepherd Center, a former BSITF commissioner and current member of the BSITF Commission’s advisory board.

If voters approve Amendment B in November, it will reduce the BSITF waiting list for eligible grant recipients and allow the board to continue advocating for Georgia’s brain and spinal cord injury community, she added.

“Shepherd Center supports the passage of Amendment B because of the positive impact it will have on improving the quality of life of Shepherd Center patients and other Georgia citizens living with brain and spinal cord injuries,” Johnson said.

One person who can speak from personal experience about the importance of passing this amendment is Chris Byrne, the father of former Shepherd Center brain injury patient Grace Byrne of Athens, Ga. She was a high school student and was hit by a driver in January 2013 as she was jogging. After months of rehabilitation, Grace graduated with her class in May 2013 and is now a student at the University of Georgia. However, the lingering effects of a brain injury still present challenges for Grace and her family, Chris said.

"No one expects to have to deal with a traumatic brain injury (TBI)," Chris said. "It is not until it happens that you really know what your health insurance does and does not cover. You do not know until you need it, as was our case, that health insurance generally does not cover things like vision therapy and TMJ treatments, and that you may be very limited in how many speech, physical and occupational therapy sessions will be covered. Also, families may need special transport vans or conversions in their homes to accommodate the TBI survivor. These have to be paid out of pocket, or sometimes from donations made to medical funds set up for the patient, and the costs are not cheap.

"The lifetime costs of a TBI are beyond the comprehension of most people – as it has been to us," Chris added. "Often, a TBI caregiver will have to give up their job to care for their loved one, which severely reduces family income.”

Also, a convoluted bureaucracy and delays exist in the processes for getting federal and state disability and educational benefits for the TBI survivor, Chris noted.

“This is why the Georgia Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund – which many states do not have an equivalent for – is so important,” Chris said. “It provides a source of funds for families when all other resources have been tapped.”

Voters should understand that Amendment B does not cost taxpayers, Chris noted. The money it would provide for BSITF grants would come from fees imposed on people convicted of reckless driving in Georgia.

“That is why my family stands absolutely in favor of Amendment B, which will help so many families – the families we have met and gotten to know on this long journey of healing,” Chris added. “Voting for Amendment B will result in zero cost to the taxpayers."

Text of Proposed Georgia Amendment B

Please let us know what you think by voting in our Amendment B poll in the left column on this page.

“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow additional reckless driving penalties or fees to be added to the Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund to pay for care and rehabilitative services for Georgia citizens who have survived neurotrauma with head or spinal cord injuries?”


About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.