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WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator John Boozman’s bill to improve rehabilitation services for veterans who have sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) cleared a major hurdle today.

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee reported Boozman’s bill, The Veterans’ Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitative Services’ Improvements Act of 2011 (S. 957), to the full Senate.  The bill is the first piece of legislation Boozman introduced in the Senate.

“I am pleased that my colleagues on the Veteran Affairs Committee recognize how important this bill is for our veterans suffering from TBI, most of whom sustained their life-altering injuries on the frontlines in Afghanistan or Iraq.  We have an obligation to provide the highest quality care possible to the men and women who serve and sacrifice on behalf of our grateful nation and this bill will fill a void in their care,” Boozman said.

Existing statutes regarding Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) treatment at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) narrowly focus care on physical restoration because of ambiguities in current law. This bicameral, bipartisan legislation clarifies the definition of rehabilitation so veterans will receive care that adequately addresses their physical and mental health needs, as well as quality of life and prospects for long-term recovery and success.

Because of advances in medicine, servicemembers who would not have been expected to survive catastrophic attacks in previous conflicts are returning home today from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan with unprecedented severe and complex injuries.  Since 2001, over 1,500 service members have suffered from a severe TBI, many of whom require rehabilitative programs ranging from total care for the most basic needs to semi-independent living support.  A restrictive approach to rehabilitation puts these wounded warriors at risk of losing any progress they made towards recovery.

“A complex injury of this nature really does need a comprehensive, long-term treatment program.  VA medical personnel currently are directed only to provide physical rehabilitation, which, in reality, is only one component of treatment for TBI.  This bill will rectify this oversight and empower the VA to fully care for our wounded warriors suffering from TBI,” Boozman said.

The Veterans’ Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitative Services Improvements Act of 2011 would ensure wounded warriors suffering from TBI receive a more comprehensive and holistic rehabilitation plan that focuses on physical restoration, mental health, and independence to improve veterans’ quality of life. It would also help veterans in maintaining the gains they have made during initial phases of treatment by requiring the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to develop rehabilitation plans that stress improved physical, cognitive and vocational functioning in the long term.

“I appreciate all the hard work of the Chairman Murray, Ranking Member Burr, and the VA for working with me to move forward this legislation.  I believe there is significant support for our bill in this chamber and I will work with my colleagues to get the full Senate’s approval of this measure,” Boozman said.

S. 957, as amended, passed out of committee as Sec. 105 of S. 914.  Sen. Mark Begich (AK) is an original cosponsor of the Senate legislation. Companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Tim Walz (MN-01) and Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-09).