U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-8), co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, today spoke on the House floor to urge Congressional action to require the Pentagon to provide soldiers post-deployment tests to screen for traumatic brain injury.
"With PTSD and TBI recognized as the signature injuries of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, you would think the Defense Department would have a good system to catch these injuries. The fact is, they don't," said Pascrell. "This is a disgrace and a disservice to our troops. We don't have a working system to catch soldiers with TBI and the longer we wait, the more soldiers will slip through the cracks."
The 2008 National Defense Authorization Act required the U.S. Department of Defense to implement cognitive screenings for service members.The Pentagon authorized sophisticated computerized testing of soldiers before deployment. However, it did not authorize the same testing for the soldiers when they returned home. The result is that the military cannot effectively determine any changes in soldiers' cognitive abilities.
Last year, the House voted to include Rep. Pascrell's amendment to the 2011 Defense Authorization bill that would have required the Defense Department to use the same method of cognitive testing for service members is used before they are deployed and after they return home. It was not included in the final legislation that was sent to the President's desk.
Since June 2010, the Defense Department has been checking any soldier who was within 50 meters of a blast for traumatic brain injury. However, this new protocol does not require a neurocognitive screening. Today, pre-deployment, a soldier takes a computerized assessment. But post-deployment, they receive a paper questionnaire.
As the Government Accountability Office reported in 2008, there are several challenges with using a questionnaire. One challenge is that service members may not report their injuries due to their desire to get home faster or existing stigmas. As a result, we know that service members are slipping through the cracks as their brain injuries are not being diagnosed or treated.
In May, Rep. Pascrell proposed an amendment to the 2012 National Defense Authorization bill. It would require the Defense Department to identify, refer, and treat service members who may have a TBI and who may not have been identified prior to the June 2010 policy.
"We need this solution now," Pascrell said. "Our men and women in uniform should have a post-deployment screening so we can get them the help they need. I hope my colleagues will support my efforts to address this in the 2012 Defense Authorization bill."