Congressman Bill Pascrell

Representing the 9th District of NEW JERSEY

National Brain Injury Awareness Month

Mar 23, 2009
Floor Speech


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   Mr. PASCRELL. Mr. Speaker, I thank my good friend from Massachusetts, and my good friend Todd Platts who is the co-chair of the Traumatic Brain Injury Task Force.

   Mr. Speaker, I learned about this injury about 10 years ago when I was approached by one of my constituents, Dennis Benigno, whose son was struck by a car, leaving him with severe cognitive and physical disabilities.

   In response, former Congressman Jim Greenwood from Pennsylvania and I formed the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force to further education and awareness of brain injuries and support funding for brain injury research. There wasn't too much at that time. In fact, most of the Members of Congress didn't know about the seriousness of the injury and how 1.5 million Americans are affected every year.

   I think people often wonder why we spend so much time talking about brain injury. Unfortunately, it took the war to crystallize what this entire issue is all about.

   Someone in America suffers a traumatic brain injury every 21 seconds. At least 1.5 million Americans sustain this injury, as I mentioned. That is more than breast cancer, HIV, multiple sclerosis, and spinal cord injuries combined. Of those, 50,000 will die every year. An estimated 3.22 million Americans are currently living with a long-term disability because of TBI. As many as 20 percent of the 1.8 million deployed troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, that is 360,000 soldiers, have sustained TBIs in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is an astonishing figure.

   TBI is one of the rare afflictions that is widespread among both the civilian population and among our soldiers. There has been a weakness in the Defense health care system, and many injured soldiers weren't receiving the level of care that they deserved. The military has made great strides in the last several years to better prevent, identify, and treat brain injuries among our brave men and women in uniform, and Congress has been a willing partner in the effort to ensure sustained progress on this front.

   Mr. Speaker and my good friend from Massachusetts, just today on the USA Today front-page review: GI's at Risk By Fitness Practices. Many of the soldiers are not fit to go to the battlefield. Many of our football players in colleges and in high schools throughout America are not fit to go on to the field. If they are not screened, we are doing an injustice to the cause.

   Accordingly, the Brain Injury Task Force brought together experts from all over the world at St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center in Paterson, New Jersey, in October for the International Conference on Behavioral Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. These experts generated recommendations that were presented to the Congress 2 weeks ago.

   We cannot forget that, for these Wounded Warriors and their families, the war will not end when the last shots are fired. Despite the staggering statistics and heart-shattering stories that come to us from Iraq and Afghanistan, public awareness continues to lag and TBI remains a silent epidemic plaguing our Nation.

   Traumatic brain injury can strike anyone and leave devastating results. We probably all know someone or know the story of someone whose life was irreversibly changed because of a brain injury. Just last week we saw a flurry of media accounts of the tragic death of actress Natasha Richardson, who sustained a brain injury while skiing. If that tragedy taught us anything, it is that, as far as science has come, we still know relatively little about this pervasive injury.

   The Congressional Brain Injury Task Force continues to seek increased funding for the programs authorized by the Traumatic Brain Injury Act, after an unprecedented amount of congressional support in these recent years.

   Designating a month to recognize the prevalence and the seriousness of brain injuries among both civilians and military community will bring much needed public attention to this frequently forgotten malady.

   And I might add, Mr. Speaker, that this Wednesday throughout the day, from 10 in the morning until 2 in the afternoon, in the Rayburn building we will have a fair with twice as many displays, close to 50 displays; and then we will have the leading folks from the military and civilian talk about it in the Cannon Building from 3:30 to 4:30, and then in the evening a reception. We are bringing the military and civilians together in order to help our soldiers and help Americans.

   This resolution will honor the families who, day in and day out, care for and love their family members who have afflictions, and do so without fanfare, without applause.

   The SPEAKER pro tempore. The time of the gentleman has expired.

   Mr. LYNCH. I grant the gentleman an additional 1 minute.

   Mr. PASCRELL. They do it because they love their sons or daughters or brothers or sisters each day of every month. I invite all Members and the staff to join Wednesday in the Rayburn foyer to meet some of the folks as we recognize Brain Injury Awareness Month here on Capitol Hill. We are hosting a fair with hundreds of individuals from the brain injury community.

   Let's pass this resolution to confirm congressional commitment to promoting awareness, education, prevention, and research by reminding all Americans of those individuals and families who suffer from a brain injury.

   We have come a long way, Mr. Speaker, in ten years. We could have fit the amount of people in our caucus in a phone booth. That has all changed. We are now close to 125, 130 Members from both sides of the aisle. We are really seeing results, particularly in the last 3 or 4 years.

   I want to thank the gentleman from Massachusetts, and I want to thank my friend from Pennsylvania. Of course, this is only the beginning of a fight where we will respond, and our men and women who put their lives on the line will know that we really mean what we say, that we love them and we will do everything we can for them.