TBI - Murray Gets Key Support from VA Secretary to Begin Tracking Traumatic Brain Injury on the Battlefield

Apr 12 2007

VA Secretary Will Write to Defense Secretary at Murray's Request

Earlier tracking will help catch more cases of mild to moderate TBI and will improve treatment

Audio of Senator Murray questioning VA Secretary Jim Nicholson and acting VA Undersecretary for Health Dr. Michael Kussman (discussion starts at 2:17)

(Washington, D.C.) - Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) got key support from the Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary to have the Pentagon document explosions on the battlefield that could result in Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) for U.S. service members.

VA Secretary Jim Nicholson agreed to write to Defense Secretary Robert Gates in support of the idea. In addition, the VA's chief medical officer said it would be especially helpful in uncovering cases of mild to moderate TBI, which are often hard to diagnose.

"TBI is taking a horrible toll on our service members, and we can't wait until a year after they've come home to discover there is no record of their exposure to an IED," Murray said after the hearing. "TBI is often an invisible wound, but battlefield tracking would shine a light on possible exposures earlier so we can get people the help they need sooner."

In August 2006, a Pentagon medical board proposed that the Defense Department begin tracking which service members are exposed to IEDs on the battlefield, including those without physical injuries.

On Friday (4/6/07), Murray met with doctors at the Seattle VA's polytrauma center. They told Murray that service members at the end of a convoy can be affected by an IED, even if they do not exhibit any physical wounds. Mild cases of TBI can be especially difficult to diagnose.

Murray has heard from family members of veterans who said that TBI symptoms did not become apparent in veterans until more than a year after they returned home. By that time, a service member may not recall the IED incidents that cause brain injuries, especially if those explosions did not result in any physical injuries.

Portions of the discussion at today's hearing follow:

[Includes VA Secretary Jim Nicholson and Acting VA Undersecretary for Health Dr. Michael Kussman]

Do you agree it would be helpful to the VA if those men and women were diagnosed before they left the service - or at least that you knew they'd be been in the vicinity of an explosion before they entered the VA system?

I think that it would be useful because the sooner that we can detect it, the sooner we can begin to treat it, and thus the sooner we can bring about healing through therapy and treatment.. . . .

. . . If there's a mechanism for them to identify everybody who was in an IED -- particularly ones that have been in more than one IED -- that would be very helpful. Yes.

Secretary Nicholson, would you be willing to write a letter to Secretary Gates and ask him if they would begin to track that information and share it with you so that we can make sure we don't lose these men and women?

Yes, I would be willing to write him a letter. He serves on the inter-cabinet task force that I chair on OEF/OIF heroes . .. and you know discuss that it was brought up in this hearing and ask him to consider it. Yes, I would.

Some of Senator Murray's recent work on TBI includes:

Murray raised TBI concerns with the Chief of the National Guard (4/11/07)

Murray discussed TBI with doctors at the Seattle VA's Polytrauma Unit (4/6/07)

Murray heard testimony on a Washington state veteran with TBI (3/27/07)

Murray worked to boost funding to treat TBI in the Supplemental (3/22/07)

Murray helped boost funding for TBI in the FY 2008 Senate Budget (3/14/07)

Murray raised the issue on the Senate floor (2/28/07)

Murray pushed the Pentagon to provide accurate figures on TBI cases (2/27/07)

At the hearing, Murray also pressed the VA Secretary on reports that the VA and Pentagon knew about bureaucratic problems at Walter Reed three years before they were exposed nationally.