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Senate Passes Major TBI Legislation to Assist Wounded Veterans

On Thursday the United States Senates passed the "wounded warrior" legislation by voice vote which includes the Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act (S. 1606), as well as major TBI provisions contained in S. 1233 and S. 1349.  S. 1233, The Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury and Health Programs Improvement Act of 2007, was sponsored by Sen. Akaka (D-HI) and Sen. Craig (R-ID), and S. 1349, The Military and Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment Act, was introduced by Sen. Durbin (D-IL).  Both S. 1233 and S. 1349 were endorsed by the Brain Injury Association of America. (BIAA)

Earlier this spring, BIAA provided recommendations to Senate Committee staff regarding ways to improve S. 1233.  Many of these recommendations were incorporated into the bill and have now been included in the Senate’s “wounded warrior” legislation. S. 1233 takes steps to ensure that service members have access to non-governmental facilities when necessary to meet the goals of individualized TBI rehabilitation and community reintegration plans.  The bill also instructs new TBI research programs within the Department of Veterans Affairs to be pursued through collaboration with existing TBI research programs receiving grants through the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research of the Department of Education. 

S. 1349 requires the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to implement a comprehensive program to diagnose, treat and rehabilitate service members and veterans who have suffered a service-related traumatic brain injury.  It also contains provisions developing a standard of care for TBI cases, establishing that each individual in the program “shall be rehabilitated to the fullest extent possible using the most up-to-date medical technology, medical rehabilitation practices, and medical expertise available.”

S. 1606 also contains several important provisions relating to providing care for returning service members with TBI.  The bill would create an overlap of DoD and VA benefits for a period of three years to enable wounded warriors to benefit from the strengths of both systems, allowing increased access to TRICARE, which in turn could potentially facilitate enhanced access to civilian TBI care providers.  In addition, the Brain Injury Association of America worked alongside other advocacy groups to help ensure inclusion of a provision in the bill requiring the DoD to adopt a pre- and post-deployment cognitive assessment tool to help diagnose TBI and PTSD in returning service members.  The bill also explicitly authorizes DoD to enter into partnerships, agreements, or other arrangements with the VA, institutions of higher education, and other public or private entities to prevent, diagnose, mitigate, treat, and rehabilitate service members with TBI.

S. 1606 further authorizes $5 million for the creation of a Center of Excellence in Prevention, Diagnosis, Mitigation, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Traumatic Brain Injury, as well as $50 million relating to the improved diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of members of the Armed Forces with TBI and PTSD.  $17 million of this $50 million is designated specifically for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.

The House of Representatives has already passed its version of “wounded warrior” legislation, and it remains to be seen how the House and Senate versions will be reconciled. 

I urge you to contact your congressional representative and Senator to insure that the conference committee meets and comes to a quick agreement. 

Let's hope that our commander in chief then quickly signs this important legislation.  Maybe he can then answer Bob Woodruff's question of last week which he so shamefully dodged!

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