"Where do I go to get my brain back?"
That's what a member of the armed services recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center said when Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., asked him how he was doing last week.
Clinton recounted the story Wednesday on a conference call with journalists to announce new legislation aimed at helping victims of traumatic brain injury.
The legislation, sponsored by Clinton and Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., would allow TBI victims to extend their "active duty" status for up to one year from the date that their injury is determined.
Clinton and Bayh called the measure a temporary fix, a "holding measure," to help servicemen and servicewomen until a more permanent solution can be found.
Brain Injuries Plague Veterans
"We are not addressing the unique challenges posed by TBI in the way that we need to be," Clinton said.
Under the current system, those recovering from TBI are forced to choose between remaining on active duty and receiving the best state-of-the-art care from the Department of Defense or entering retired status and returning to their hometowns to receive care under the umbrella of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Often, Bayh and Clinton said, medical care is lacking at smaller VA facilities, and some do not offer the best rehabilitation services for TBI victims.
"All too often, the soldiers are not getting the kind of care that they need," said Bayh.
Patient's Advocate for Victims
The bill would also provide that every TBI victim be given a "patient's advocate" to help the patient wade through what can be an enormously complicated and frustrating system.
The senators could not estimate how much such a measure would cost the Department of Defense. But both said they believed it would find bipartisan support in Congress.
"We're spending six or seven billion a month in Iraq," Bayh said. "There is room to treat these injuries. … We'll find the money to solve it."
The soldier Clinton visited at Walter Reed had lost his right arm in a blast, and his left ring finger had to be amputated because his wedding band had melted into the finger.
According to Clinton, he told her he was "making progress" in rehabilitating his arm.
But "what bothers me," he said, "is I can't remember anything."