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Letter to Robert M. Gates, United States Secretary of Defense


Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-08) and U.S. Rep. Todd Russell Platts (R-PA-19), the Co-Chairs of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, called into question military guidelines that limit Purple Heart eligibility for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) survivors in a letter sent yesterday to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The letter to Secretary Gates is attached and copied below:

January 7, 2009

The Honorable Robert M. Gates
Secretary, U.S. Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000

Dear Secretary Gates:

As you know, the Department of Defense determined yesterday that military personnel who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are not eligible to receive a Purple Heart. Your Department's determination on this invisible wound of war has called into question Purple Heart eligibility for individuals suffering from the consequences of a combat-related traumatic brain injury (TBI).

It has been brought to our attention that Purple Hearts have been awarded inconsistently to service personnel who have sustained combat-related TBIs. Media reports have suggested that individuals with more severe TBIs may be eligible for the distinguished Purple Heart while individuals with less severe ones often receive refusals. In fact, the New York Times recently reported on an individual receiving medical attention for a mild TBI sustained in the line of duty who has been denied a Purple Heart for his injury. Additionally, guidance for the care of mild traumatic brain injury issued by the Multi-National Corps-Iraq in May 2008 specified that most cases of mild TBI do not warrant the Purple Heart award.

Furthermore, your staff informed us this morning that TBIs do not currently meet eligibility requirements for Purple Hearts despite concussions being listed as an example of "enemy-related injuries which clearly justify award of Purple Heart" in the regulations governing individual Department of Defense decorations. In light of this information, please clarify for the Congress the status of Purple Heart eligibility for the brave individuals who have sustained traumatic brain injuries while defending our country.

A recent study from the Rand Corp. found that almost 20 percent of the men and women returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may have sustained a TBI during deployment. These numbers make TBI one of the signature wounds of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. As the Co-Chairs of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, we are all too aware that TBIs—while invisible—are very real injuries that are impacting hundreds of thousands of returning soldiers everyday and warrant the honor and enhanced benefits associated with the Purple Heart award. In fact, a recent Institute of Medicine report that was commissioned by the Department of Veterans Affairs concluded that individuals who have sustained TBIs—even mild ones—are at risk of long-term health problems including depression, Alzheimer's-like symptoms, seizures, and problems with social functioning. Furthermore, in 2007, the American Legion, which represents over 3 million men and women who have served our country, called upon both Congress and the Defense Department to recognize TBIs for the purpose of awarding the Purple Heart.

All of the brave men and women who will suffer the life-long consequences of the injuries that they sustained while fighting for our country deserve world-class treatment and recognition—including the Purple Heart award.

We thank you for your service, and we look forward to your speedy response.


Bill Pascrell, Jr. Todd Russell Platts
Member of Congress Member of Congress

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