Funding for the "Signature Injury" of the War in Iraq is Key
The Record March
AS THE CIVIL WAR came to a close in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln delivered a historic message in his inaugural address that initiated a national commitment to America's military veterans and their families. He challenged America to "strive for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan." His words were received as gospel, and to this day remain the Department of Veterans Affairs' mission statement.
Regrettably, the public has been given alarming cause to doubt the Bush administration's commitment to America's military veterans and their families. Recent reports of inhumane living conditions and sparse service availability for our military personnel upon their return from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan have revealed a broken system in desperate need of repair.
The most glaring example of this administration's failure to accommodate our troops is apparent in the abject neglect of resources available for military traumatic brain injury prevention, diagnosis, rehabilitation and treatment. TBI is an infliction that has become prevalent in battlefields laden with improvised explosive devices and blast incidents. Military medical experts have designated TBI as the "signature injury" of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
An overwhelming 64 percent of wounded American troops are blast injury survivors - an estimated 80 percent of them are expected to have sustained a traumatic brain injury. Many will return home from war undiagnosed until it is too late, and in many cases suffer permanent brain damage as a result.
Reverse the neglect
It is morally incumbent upon Congress to aggressively reverse the administration's neglect and confront this scourge that is quietly disabling thousands of troops. Congress recently made a promising step toward addressing military TBI, but much work remains.
The U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health and Iraq Accountability Act was approved by the House of Representatives Friday, 218-212. It is a strong piece of legislation that will pressure the Iraqis to meet a series of security, political and economic benchmarks that I am confident will allow our troops to return home as soon as possible.
But unlike any other measure approved by Congress since the start of the war four years ago, this resolution provides hard dollars to directly confront the "signature injury" of the war.
As the founder and co-chairman of the congressional Brain Injury Task Force, I have worked with Rep. Jack Murtha, the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, and other experts to create a comprehensive plan that would maximize the $450 million made available in the measure.
My proposal would apply prescreening technology to all military personnel before they even set foot onto the battlefield and continue diagnostic analysis until the day they return home to their communities. Continued care would be provided to any TBI victims through an expansion of service sites like the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center-2.000, which already operates across the country. DVBIC was established in 1992 following the sharp increase in head injuries sustained during the Gulf War, and remains the premier provider of military TBI re
search, education and care.
A separate unit of specialized care centers would also be established nationwide to provide complete medical care for the most severely injured.
Staff training for combat medics would be provided for battlefield concussion evaluation, and would include the development of new military concussion evaluation tools. Staffing at Landstuhl Medical Hospital in Germany, where our injured troops are sent for care, would also be increased with brain injury specialists.
All too often our troops go undiagnosed, only to sustain multiple brain injuries. These safeguards would dramatically decrease the occurrence of a soldier compounding an original concussion.
Last, the funding would be invested in education and training to fill the dearth of brain injury researchers and care providers here in the United States. Collaboration between the federal government and private medical entities would enable new telemedicine programs and diagnostic screening technologies to extend service out to veterans in the least accessible regions of the country.
This funding represents a historic investment in our veterans and their families, but more importantly it symbolizes a return to the fundamental values that President Lincoln emphasized in 1865.
The federal government must never lose sight of the debt we owe to America's bravest sons and daughters once they return home from war.
The security of our nation and integrity of our democracy depend on it.
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, represents the 8th Congressional District.