Mr. PASCRELL. Mr. Chair, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Chairman SKELTON and his Committee for the important work they have done on this legislation and the strides they have made to ensure that individuals with traumatic brain injury (TBI) are identified and afforded the benefits that they deserve.
TBI is the signature injury of our current conflicts overseas. As many as 20 percent of the 1.8 million deployed troops--or an estimated 360,000 soldiers--have sustained traumatic brain injuries while in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, many of these men and women in uniform are falling through the cracks. We must ensure that these individuals are properly identified and provided with the world class health care that they deserve. H.R. 2647 takes important steps to achieving both of these goals.
First, I applaud the inclusion of language submitted by myself and Congressman TODD PLATTS, who is both a member of the Armed Services Committee and serves as my Co-Chair on the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, that calls on the branches of the Armed Services to implement long-term tracking for blast exposures, as the Army National Guard (NG) has already done. The NG initiative records the exposure to blasts in troops' personnel records in order to document the incident in the event of problems associated with traumatic brain injury or exposure to contaminants. This database will help determine eligibility for appropriate treatment, care, and disability entitlements. A comprehensive blast tracking system will also assist in efforts to research blast injuries and mild TBI and improve outreach, education, and follow-up for injured personnel who might otherwise fall through the cracks.
Second, I am appreciative of the inclusion of language that I submitted regarding the awarding of the Purple Heart to individuals who have sustained traumatic brain injuries, which calls on the Secretary to review its policies and procedures for determining eligibility and awarding of the Purple Heart as it relates to TBI. Media reports and anecdotal evidence have suggested that Purple Hearts may have been awarded inconsistently to service personnel who have sustained combat-related TBIs, suggesting that individuals with more severe TBIs may be eligible for the distinguished Purple Heart while individuals with less severe ones often receive refusals.
We believe that the Purple Heart criteria set out in regulation encompass soldiers who sustain a TBI or concussion as the result of enemy action. The Department of Defense's own Legislative Affairs has, however, stated that a brain injury that requires minimal medical attention would not suffice. I would caution against the use of such absolutes in the face of uncertainty about the effects of blast-related TBIs. Because the field of science still knows relatively little about effective interventions and the long-term consequences of traumatic brain injuries, particularly mild ones and those caused by blasts, the Department of Defenses' interpretation of treatment should not preclude injured soldiers who fulfill all other Purple Heart criteria from receiving the recognition and benefits they deserve.
Third, I am pleased to see the inclusion of legislation introduced by Congressman WALTER JONES, of which I am an original co-sponsor. This important language permits separated service members to seek a review of their discharge if their post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or TBI was not taken into consideration when determining their separation and mandates a physical exam for active duty service members before an administrative separation proceeding if the service member had been diagnosed with PTSD or TBI. The effects and prevalence of PTSD and TBI have become too harsh and too widespread for our military leaders to overlook, and ensuring that the full facts of soldiers' injuries are considered upon discharge is the least we can do to ensure these individuals receive the care and benefits they deserve.
Finally, I praise the Committee for its recognition of the need for civilian and military collaboration in the science of the brain by providing for a Visiting NIH Senior Neuroscience Fellowship Program. This will provide an important opportunity for the military to learn from the work occurring at the National Institutes of Health on neuroscience and vice versa.
Thank you again to Chairman SKELTON, and I look forward to continuing to work with the Committee as we make further improvements to the care and benefits that we provide to the brave men and women that put their lives on the line for our freedom.