News Releases

IRAQ: Senator Murray Speaks Out on Caring for Our Troops and Treating Traumatic Brain Injury

Feb 28 2007

Senator Says Days of Republican Rubber Stamp on Bush's War Policies Are Over

(Washington, D.C.) - In a speech on the Senate floor today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) rebutted claims by another Senator who said that during wartime Congress's only duty is to support the president. Murray also spoke of the need to screen and treat Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), which is estimated to affect 10 percent of U.S. service members from Iraq and Afghanistan.



Senator Murray's remarks follow:



Mr. President, since this body recessed 10 days ago, I've been once again outraged to see report after report detailing this Administration's complete failure to care for our troops and our veterans.



What's worse, since we returned on Monday, I've heard several of my Republican colleagues attempt to question our patriotism and our support for our troops. So I felt compelled to come to the floor to speak up.



For more than four years this Administration has failed to plan for the true cost of this war. They've demanded blind loyalty from Congress, asking for rubber stamps on their "Emergency" budgets, avoiding oversight and pursuing their own strategy in the face of criticism from members of Congress, generals, and the American public.



Yesterday, Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL), I thought, encapsulated the White House position better than I ever could. He said:

SEN. MARTINEZ: "AT A TIME OF WAR, THE CONGRESS SHOULD DO ONLY ONE THING, WHICH IS TO SUPPORT OUR PRESIDENT, TO TRY TO UNITE BEHIND OUR TROOPS AND UNITE BEHIND OUR EFFORT."




I couldn't disagree more. As elected members of congress, and even as mere citizens of this country, we can and we must question the policies implemented by our government. And in no time is that more important than in a time of war, when the lives of our bravest men and women are on the line.



But you don't just need to take me at my word. Even General Peter Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Congressional hearing recently that our troops understand the need for debate back home and are sophisticated enough to know that debate doesn't equate to lack of support.



But that debate and all oversight was stifled for years. Unfortunately for us all, for the first years of this war, Congress was under Republican control. That control led to a stunning lack of oversight, an outrageous number of rubber stamps, and an impotence from this Congress that shames us all.



Well, those days are over.



I don't have the time this morning to outline each and every failure by this Administration. I don't have the time to detail the many ways that this Administration has failed our troops. I don't have the time to detail the many ways this Administration has also failed our veterans.



So instead, I've decided to speak as frequently as I must to get this Administration to pay the troops and our veterans the attention they deserve. I and my Democratic colleagues are committed to supporting our troops from the battlefield all the way back to their local VA and everywhere in between. We've worked hard to ensure they get the care they deserve, the care they've earned.



My worry is that this Administration continues to be slow to react to these problems - and rarely if ever takes proactive measures to stop these many problems before they even begin.



From sending our troops to war without critical armor, to housing them in squalor at Walter Reed, to leaving them to fend for themselves when they need mental healthcare, the Bush Administration is utterly failing our service members, our veterans and their families.



Traumatic Brain Injury



Nowhere is that failure more apparent than in the handling of what will one day become known as the signature wound of this war - Traumatic Brain Injury. It's estimated that 10 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have suffered Traumatic Brain Injury during their service.



One of the biggest problems with TBI is that it is an unseen wound. Often it's misdiagnosed. In many cases, unless a service member involved in an IED incident is bleeding, he or she won't be documented as having been involved in an explosion. As a result, the actual number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with TBI could be even higher than statistics indicate. We owe it to our men and women in uniform on this floor and say we will do everything to help you. We will screen for TBI, we will document TBI, and we will not fail to treat veterans suffering from this injury. It's clear that our system is not catching all of the TBI patients this war is producing.



In a special broadcast that I hope each and every one of my colleagues saw last night, ABC news anchor Bob Woodruff detailed his experience with a Traumatic Brain Injury.



I was moved by Bob's struggle with his injury, his families unrelenting hope for recovery, and their ongoing work toward triumph over this horrible situation. While Bob has seen a tremendous recovery from this horrendous injury, I fear that the care he received has not been duplicated for thousands of other troops when they returned home. He detailed several cases of soldiers suffering from injuries not unlike his own and the lack of care they received when they left flagship care centers for smaller, local hospitals. While so many of us know that this injury has become the signature wound of this war, I fear that last night's program once again showed that this Administration, and the VA in particular, has not yet stepped up to the plate to handle the crush of troops with brain injuries returning each and every day.



What's worse, I'm concerned that we do not even know the real number of troops who are suffering from Traumatic Brain Injuries. The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center gathers information on these injuries, but has thus far refused to release it publicly. Collected at tax payer expense, this information could, I hope, provide us with a baseline of how many of our troops have suffered from a Traumatic Brain Injury - an important starting point for dealing with these terrible injuries.



What we do know is that while the Department of Defense claims less than 30,000 troops have been injured during this war, 205,000 troops have enrolled for care at the VA. By any accounting, those numbers just don't add up.



That's why yesterday, I asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates to provide us with data compiled by the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on the actual number of TBI victims. While we do not yet have that information, I see no reason that it should not be shared with Congress and the American people.



In addition, I was heartened to hear that the Department of Veterans Affairs, in a long overdue step forward, finally announced yesterday that they will begin screening every recent combat veteran for TBI.



But we must do more. We cannot simply take Department of Veterans Affairs at their word, as their record of care and openness has left much to be desired. And this cannot be an issue solely for the VA to handle. We must develop a system to address Traumatic Brain Injuries from the battlefield all the way back to a local VA hospital. Screening is important. Pre and post-deployment screening must be done. This signature wound must be a top priority at each and every step along the long path to recovery for wounded members of the armed services.



Mr. President, the bottom line is that we have not yet offered our brave men and women fighting abroad a real plan to take care of them when they return home. The Department of Defense and the Veterans Affairs must come together to solve the many problems plaguing the system.



And I pledge to them, to our fighting men and women and to their families, that this new Democratic Congress will hold them accountable for their inaction and ensure that we finally give these men and women all that they deserve when they return home.