Congressman Bill Pascrell

Representing the 9th District of NEW JERSEY

Rep. Pascrell asks Defense Dept. to Consider Brain Injury Study Recommendations

May 18, 2017
Press Release
Letter from co-chair of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force urges implementation of GAO recommendations on consideration of TBI and PTSD in military misconduct discharges

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representative Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ) today sent a letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis asking for the implementation of recommendations in a Government Accountability Office report issued yesterday entitled “Actions Needed to Ensure Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Are Considered in Misconduct Separations.”

"I urge you and your Department to give due consideration to the recommendations made by the GAO to ensure accurate and timely diagnosis of PTSD and TBI in determining separation for misconduct, consistent policies across all branches of the military with accountability, and adequate counseling for servicemembers about the consequences of separation for misconduct, including the loss of health benefits," Rep. Pascrell wrote in his letter.

Rep. Pascrell, the co-chair of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, has been working for years to advances brain injury policy on Capitol Hill. He co-founded the caucus in 2001 and has served as task force co-chair since its inception. The task force serves as an information source for Congress and the public, furthers education and awareness of brain injury – incidence, prevalence, prevention and treatment – and supports funding for basic and applied research on brain injury rehabilitation and development for a cure.

Text of the letter below (link to PDF):

May 17, 2017

James Mattis
Secretary
U.S. Department of Defense
4000 Defense Blvd.
Washington, D.C. 20301

Dear Secretary Mattis,

I write in regard to a report issued yesterday by the Government Accountability Office entitled “Actions Needed to Ensure Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Are Considered in Misconduct Separations.” I urge you and your Department to give due consideration to the recommendations made by the GAO to ensure accurate and timely diagnosis of PTSD and TBI in determining separation for misconduct, consistent policies across all branches of the military with accountability, and adequate counseling for servicemembers about the consequences of separation for misconduct, including the loss of health benefits.

As the co-chair and co-founder of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, I have worked to address the effects brain injuries have on both the military and civilian populations. As you know, TBI and PTSD have been recognized as the signature injuries of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Estimates from the RAND Corporation in 2008 estimated that nearly 20 percent—or 320,000—of the 1.6 million men and women deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan sustained a brain injury while in the line of duty. Additionally, between 11-20 percent of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD in a given year, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA).

Given the impact that TBI and PTSD have on an individual’s behavior and decision-making skills, it is imperative that these conditions are accurately diagnosed in a timely manner. It is also important that these conditions receive appropriate consideration when a servicemember is discharged for misconduct. According to the GAO’s report, in the case of 16 percent of the separations for misconduct that the GAO examined, the servicemembers suffered from PTSD or TBI. Additionally, the GAO found that two of the four branches of the military have policies inconsistent with DOD’s policy on the impact of TBI and PTSD on separations for misconduct; and that the Army and Marine Corps may not have adhered to their own screening, training, and counseling policies related to PTSD and TBI. I urge you to ensure that DOD’s policies are implemented consistently across all of the military services and that there is adequate oversight of adherence.

As you know, when an individual receives an “other than honorable” discharge, he or she may not be eligible for health benefits through the VA. A lack of health coverage is problematic for anyone, but especially so for individuals suffering from TBI or PTSD. DOD policy requires that servicemembers requesting separation in lieu of trial by court-martial be counseled on the negative consequences of this type of separation. However, of the 48 separation packets the GAO examined, 11 had unclear or undocumented evidence that counseling took place. It is important for your Department to ensure that if servicemembers are agreeing to less than honorable discharges that they understand the consequences of that decision.

Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter. I look forward to you keeping me updated on the DOD’s progress implementing these recommendations.

Sincerely,

Bill Pascrell, Jr.
Member of Congress