Congressman Bill Pascrell

Representing the 9th District of NEW JERSEY

Traumatic Brain Injury: The Silent Epidemic

Jan 31, 2005

As I travel throughout the twenty-one towns in the Eighth Congressional District, families of all shapes and sizes talk to me about our health care system. Whether the topic is ensuring that managed care companies cover core services and are accountable for their decisions, or advancing cutting-edge research to confront our most dreaded diseases, there is much we must do.

As the Co-Chair of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, I believe we must also increase awareness of traumatic brain injury and examine how Congress can help foster research and evaluate effective rehabilitative techniques. This can no longer be the silent epidemic.

According to the National Center for Disease Control (CDC), unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death and disability among young Americans. Some $48 billion a year is spent on Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI), alone. TBI can strike anyone without warning, often with devastating consequences.

TBI is defined as an insult to the brain caused by an external force that may produce a diminished or altered state of consciousness and which often results in an impairment of cognitive abilities or physical functioning. It can also result in the disturbance of behavioral or emotional functioning.

Few know that TBI is the leading cause of death and disability among young Americans in the United States. Every year, more than 1.5 million people sustain brain injuries from car crashes, falls and accidents, sports injuries and other causes. Strikingly, the annual incidence of TBI is greater than the incidence of breast cancer, HIV/AIDS, Spinal Cord Injury and Multiple Sclerosis combined.

Like many, I didn't know very much about TBI or its impact on families. That changed in the summer of 1998, when I met a special person named Dennis Benigno. A resident of Clifton, Dennis' courage, dedication, and love inspired me to try and make a difference in this fight.

The Benignos became acutely familiar with the issue of traumatic brain injury in 1984, when a car struck their then-15 year-old son Dennis John. He suffered a severe brain injury that left him totally disabled. Unable to communicate or care for himself in any way, Dennis John depends on others for the basic necessities of life.

As the family struggled to find a cure for Dennis John, it became clear to them that very little awareness and treatment for TBI existed. Dennis and his wife Rosalind chose to act, founding The Coalition for Brain Injury Research. The Coalition is dedicated to supporting and promoting research that will one day lead to a cure, and is doing tremendous work.

I am pleased to report that last year, Congress took two important steps in our effort to address this epidemic. First, we passed the Children's Health Act of 2000, which included important amendments to the Traumatic Brain Injury Act of 1996. I worked closely with my Republican colleague, Representative James Greenwood of Pennsylvania, to ensure passage of this important legislation. It created a new education and awareness campaign run by the Centers for Disease Control, and made law my proposal to have the Department of Health and Human Services make grants to states to create traumatic brain injury registries that will aid in critically important data collection.

Second, Congressman Greenwood and I founded the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force. Its mission is to increase awareness of the incidence and prevalence of brain injury in the United States, explore research initiatives for rehabilitation and potential cures, study and address the effects such injuries have on families, children, education and the workforce, and bring improved services to individuals with brain injury.

Our Task Force held its first congressional briefing on June 27, 2001 on Capitol Hill. It served to inform Members of Congress and their staffs about cutting-edge research, findings from recent studies on rehabilitation, and the challenges faced daily by those with brain injuries. We are committed to building on the success of this first briefing in the months to come, and attracting more and more people to our cause.

TBI was for too long the silent epidemic. Both here at home and in Washington, we are making tangible progress toward changing that. We must, and we will, continue to do so because those families affected by TBI deserve nothing less.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, represents the 8th Congressional District.