One might think it would be hard to find a lawmaker who would defend Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who is accused of slaying 17 civilians in cold blood in Afghanistan. But last week U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., did just that.
Pascrell, you see, is co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force. On March 21, Pascrell participated in activities on Capitol Hill to celebrate the 11th annual Brain Injury Awareness Day.
In an interview with The Record of New Jersey during that day’s program, Pascrell made several remarks about Bale. The lawmaker, who has chided the military for not aggressively taking care of soldiers who sustain subtle brain injury, noted that Bale had suffered a concussion during one of his tours in Iraq, before being sent to Afghanistan.
“We right now want to cradle this soldier in our arms (and) condemn the acts,” Pascrell said, according to The Record.
The congressman stressed that he wasn’t trying to justify the murderous acts of March 11 in Afghanistan. But he told The Record that Bale “is going to need us.”
Pascrell has written Defense Secretary Leon Panetta seeking details about Bale’s brain injury diagnosis, evaluation and reinstatement, according to The Record.
“We’re going to find out if there’s possibly premature releasing of this soldier … premature releasing for him to to go back into battle again, on tour,” Pascrell told the newspaper.
On Brain Injury Awareness Day, Pascrell introduced legislation that would broaden federal resources and provisions for people with traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
“Congress first passed the Traumatic Brain Injury Act in 1996 to help individuals with TBI, and their families, gain access to rehabilitation, long-term care, and support often needed to return to home, work, school and community activities,” Pascrell said in a press release.
“From overseas battlefields to small-town ball fields, brain injuries can impact anyone at any time,” he said. “The TBI Act of 2012 will sustain successful programs, provide better coordination of TBI research, and create a funding formula that will allow all 50 states to access state grants for TBI programs.”
The TBI Act currently authorizes:
· The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to assist states in developing and expanding service delivery capacity for individuals with traumatic brain injury and their families
· The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to conduct surveillance, prevention and public education programs
· The National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct of research on TBI
· HRSA to make grants for the Protection and Advocacy for Traumatic Brain Injury (PATBI) program, which provides critical advocacy services to ensure that people with TBIs live full and independent lives free from abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation.
Pascrell’s proposed changes include:
· Giving the CDC the authority to collaborate with other agencies to issue reports based on national needs.
· Transitioning HRSA state grants away from a “project” focus to options that support sustainability of programs. This change would allow for capacity building, continuum of care, and service delivery to individuals. Most states have implemented infrastructure from grants received in prior years and are ready to sustain and build programs.
· Supporting HRSA’s development of a national plan on TBI in collaboration with other relevant agencies
· Streamlining TBI reporting requirements to ensure that outcomes are based on relevant and appropriate data.
· Authorizing funding for research on children and youth with TBI; rehabilitation, short-term/long-term outcomes; identification/assessment issues
The CDC estimates that 1.7 million sustain a TBI each year, and that TBI is a contributing factor to nearly a third of all injury-related deaths in the United States.