WASHINGTON - U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-08) today passed legislation in the House of Representatives to advance public awareness and ultimately find a cure for traumatic brain injury. The legislation recognizes the life-altering impact that has affected millions of Americans living with traumatic brain injury and calls for a National Brain Injury Awareness Month. It encourages the President to issue a proclamation designating such a month. The resolution passed the House by a voice vote.
"I am proud to have brought my colleagues in the House together to address a dangerously under-recognized health crisis that disables 5.3 million Americans," stated Pascrell, the founder and co-Chairman of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force. "This infliction that we call the 'silent epidemic' has today gained a strong and unified voice. Advancing public awareness for traumatic brain injury is an important step in reaching our ultimate goal. We must develop more effective methods of rehabilitation and a find cure for traumatic brain injury. Our objective is clear; the eradication of traumatic brain injury as a debilitating, costly and deadly plague on humankind."
In 1998 Pascrell met a Clifton, New Jersey constituent named Dennis Benigno whose fifteen year old son had suffered a severe traumatic brain injury from an automobile accident that left him disabled. The Benigno family's passion and dedication in finding a cure for their son and millions of others inspired Pascrell to act in Congress. In 2001, Pascrell founded the bipartisan Congressional Brain Injury Task Force to further educate Congress and the public on the incidence, prevalence, prevention and treatment of traumatic brain injury. The Task Force supports increased funding for basic and applied research on brain injury rehabilitation and the development of a cure.
"This is an important first step that I hope will create an atmosphere for the need to conduct research and find a cure," stated Dennis Benigno, Executive Director of the New Jersey Commission on Brain Injury Research. "Recent technologies and advances in medical sciences show the possibility of a cure is a realistic goal. The reality is that we have the tools to start developing a cure. When Congressman Pascrell heard my story he listened and immediately took action. Now there is hope."
A bipartisan collection of 110 members of the House and Senate make up the Brain Injury Task Force. Each year in March the Task Force sponsors a 'Brain Injury Awareness Day' on Capitol Hill to bring brain injury victims, clinical experts and professional groups together with members of Congress and Congressional staff for educational discussions and demonstrations. Rep. Todd Russell Platts (R-PA-19) currently serves as Pascrell's co-Chairman on the Task Force.
"Every 21 seconds, another person in the United States of America sustains a traumatic brain injury," said Congressman Todd Platts, co Chairman of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force. "TBI is the leading cause of death and disability among young Americans. We need a concerted public awareness campaign to shed light on this silent epidemic."
Passage of today's resolution will support legislative funding initiatives in Congress to increase federal support for prevention and treatment of traumatic brain injury in both civilian and military communities.
The "Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Act" is the only federal law that specifically addresses issues faced by people who live with long-term disability as a result of traumatic brain injury. The funding which was originally authorized by Congress in 1996 is due to expire. Pascrell is leading the effort in Congress to reauthorize the programs governed by the TBI Act this year. The law has successfully provided a foundation for coordinated and balanced public policy for people living with TBI.
Traumatic brain injury prevention and treatment is becoming increasingly common amongst our active military personnel. Following Operation Desert Storm in 1992, the prevalence and severity of traumatic brain injuries in our troops was recognized and the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) was established. Military doctors have named traumatic brain injury the signature wound of the war in Iraq. The DVBIC needs Congressional support to continue training combat medics and surgeons, general medical officers and reservists to prevent, recognize, treat, and rehabilitate the effects of traumatic brain injury.
"With 68% of injured soldiers returning from Iraq with traumatic brain injuries, improved education and awareness is critical, stated Dr. George A. Zitnay the founder of the National Brain Injury Research Treatment and Training Foundation. "We commend Congressmen Pascrell and Platts and Members of Congressional Brain Injury Task Force for their leadership in helping bring about greater understanding of this "silent epidemic."
"The magnitude of traumatic brain injury is not only astounding in that 5.3 million Americans live with a traumatic brain injury, but each year 1.4 million more Americans are injured as the result of motor vehicle crashes, assaults, falls--particularly among the elderly and young children--and among our soldiers serving in war," stated William A.B. Ditto, Chair of the Public Policy Committee for the National Association of State Head Injury Administrators. "Unfortunately, the results of these injuries change people's lives and affect their ability to return to work, school, and community. The Awareness Month is a time set aside to not only focus on the long-term issues faced by individuals with traumatic brain injury, but also on prevention efforts designed to reduce the number injured each year."
"Passage of this legislation is an affirmation by Congress of TBI as a serious public health issue and the brain injury community applauds Rep. Pascrell for his continued leadership" said Susan H. Connors, President and CEO of the Brain Injury Association of America.
"We are very pleased to see legislation that would increase awareness of brain injury pass in the House of Representatives," says Tom Grady, Director of Advocacy & Public Affairs for the Brain Injury Association of New Jersey. "Passage of this resolution coincides with the May 4th passage of a similar bill package by the New Jersey Senate's Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. The package, Senate Joint Resolution No. 20/Assembly Joint Resolution No. 85, would designate the month of March in each year as "Brain Injury Awareness Month." Passage of both this bill package and of the House resolution indicates that both the state and federal government recognize the need for brain injury awareness," Grady added.
It is estimated by the New Jersey Commission on Brain Injury Research that 12,000 to 15,000 New Jersey residents suffer brain injuries from traumatic events each year, of which 1,000 are fatal. Approximately 175,000 New Jersey residents currently live with disabilities from traumatic brain injuries. Leading causes of traumatic brain injury are motor vehicle crashes, falls, assaults, and self-inflicted injuries.