We all should be as lucky as Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

After taking a bullet to the head, she not only survived, but she’s now been released from the rehabilitation hospital where she has lived since Jan. 26.

She’s been very fortunate to be getting high-quality, extensive rehabilitation and support. Many Americans with brain injuries and other disabilities who need a similar level of assistance are simply out of luck.

It was reported that Giffords will continue outpatient rehabilitation therapy at her husband’s home in the Houston area while also receiving 24-hour in-home assistance.

But as National Public Radio and ProPublica reported, this type of brain injury rehab is not available to American soldiers who sustain brain injuries, since it is not covered by TriCare, the Pentagon’s health insurance plan for military personnel.

Beyond the military, only five of the 12 major private health insurers pay for rehab like Giffords’, according to the same report.

Since Giffords was injured on the job, her rehabilitation is covered by workers’ compensation under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act. But what about those who don’t have jobs covered by workers’ comp or those who have lost their jobs and thus their health insurance?

They would likely receive only basic emergency trauma care. Who would pay for their 24-hour in-home assistance? They may well end up dumped into a nursing home.

Pia Carusone, Giffords’ chief of staff, sent a letter in April to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius urging HHS to include comprehensive cognitive rehabilitation as part of the essential benefits package of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

“When someone sustains a brain injury,” Carusone wrote, “rehabilitation of sufficient scope, duration and intensity is necessary to regain lost skills and learn new compensatory strategies. … With proper treatment, we know that individuals, like Congresswoman Giffords, who sustain even the most severe injuries can live healthy, independent and productive lives.”

We all cheer for a happy ending for Giffords. She deserves whatever support she needs to gain and maintain control of her life. And all other people with disabilities deserve this, too.

Mike Ervin is a disability-rights activist with ADAPT (www.adapt.org). He wrote this for Progressive Media Project; it was distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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