The Union Recorder

March 31, 2014

Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund fills gaps

Local official works to adequately distribute helpful grants

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — A 31-year-old man sustained a spinal cord injury relating to a 2010 gunshot wound. He lives alone and doesn't own a vehicle.

He hopes that a car will allow him to resume a “somewhat normal life, look for employment opportunities and further his education.”

The man could finally attend his daughters' school functions as well.

This excerpt from a $10,000 March application for assistance made to the Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund Commission (BSITFC) is one request for post-acute care and rehabilitation for traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries that annually affects more than 70,000 Georgians.

The commission uses money accumulated from a percentage of the surcharge on drunk driving fines to provide grants to individuals thereby leveling the playing field in their daily lives. In November 1998, voters passed a constitutional amendment enabling the trust fund.

“It was meant to fill the gaps in the system where there was no one else providing resources,” the BSITFC website states.

Baldwin County Commissioner Henry Craig was appointed to the 15-member BSITFC in 2010 and continues making sure proper applicants receive money for services for which no other avenue pays.

More than half of those serving on the commission either have a brain or spinal cord injury or a family member with the same. Other members are specialists in the field or work with organizations that provide services to people with traumatic injuries.

The BSITFC administers the Central Registry to identify those Georgians who are injured, distributes trust fund resources and advocates for improvements in statewide services.

“The support we give doesn't come out of taxes in the state of Georgia. Every dollar we spend comes from those DUI surcharges,” Craig said. “One of our issues right now is that our resources are dwindling.”

Since 2007, the annual trust fund collections dropped from nearly $1.97 million to a fiscal year 2014 estimated total of $1.4 million.

“It's reflective of the communities. As they have lost revenue, the judges are much more likely now to find a way to decrease the charge or call it something else because of the charge,” Craig said.

Effective this week, the BSITFC made 23 March awards worth $154,000. The maximum individual award is $15,000.

“We will give away every single dollar we collect,” he said. “I want to say that every dollar has a name to it. I want real people to get these awards. We are spring loaded to say yes.”

Ninety-eight percent of applicants in the last 48 months earned grants, according to Craig, who chairs the distribution committee.

The commission is drawing down a reserve account, while searching for ways to increase collections to help the brain and spinal injured applicants.

Current allotments only cover 250 or so yearly grant awards out of 70,000 that could receive assistance.

If recent legislation passed in the 2014 Georgia General Assembly survives the ballot box, the surcharge fee collections would broaden to include reckless driving charges.

Craig predicts raising revenue by “30 or 40 percent.”

“Maybe we can help another 100 people per year,” he said. “We'll need the help of many advocates to sell this.”

The BSITFC goal is “making Georgians as useful, whole and as normal as possible.”

Speaking software, day support services, modified vehicles, ramps, dental services and tuition are several application requests supplemented by the trust fund.

These injuries transform family dynamics as well. Thousands of these individuals require 24-hour care.

The service gets expensive, and Craig said parents that do the job deserve a break.

Craig's 39-year-old son sustained a traumatic brain injury in a motorcycle accident. A family history at Central State Hospital makes the Baldwin County man comfortable with special needs.

“I understand it and am not scared of it,” he said. “That's my passion.”

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