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ARLINGTON, Va. — Congress will ask the Defense Department to review its procedures for awarding the Purple Heart to troops suffering from traumatic brain injury, whom some lawmakers feel are being overlooked by the awards process.

Troops suffering from concussions resulting from enemy explosions are eligible for the Purple Heart, but Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., didn’t think the Defense Department was applying this standard to troops with TBI.

“I’ve read the criteria over and over again for the Purple Heart,” Pascrell said in September. “The regulations are fine. I take exception and take issue with how DOD has interpreted these regulations.”

That’s why he and Rep. Todd Platts, R-Pa., inserted language into the fiscal 2010 National Defense Authorization Act requiring Defense Secretary Robert Gates to report back to Congress by March 31. The House approved the bill, 281-146, on Thursday; the Senate had not scheduled a final vote on the measure as of deadline Thursday.

The Defense Department says that 48,371 cases of TBI have been diagnosed since 2003.

Former Army 1st Lt. Mike McMichael has no doubt that TBI is a wound that merits the Purple Heart.

In November 2004, his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq. He appeared OK, but he suffered with an undiagnosed case of TBI for nearly three years, and it almost cost him his marriage.

Even though he is doing better, he will never be able to hold down a job again and he needs a satellite navigation system to get to his mother’s house because he can’t remember the way.

“TBI is a serious injury,” he said. “It might not look like it because you’re not missing a limb or you don’t have a scar to show, but for the rest of your life, you are different and impaired in some way.

“For the rest of your life, you’re going to have problems holding a job. For the rest of your life, you’re going to have problems with your relationship with your family.”

McMichael said he is not concerned with getting a Purple Heart for his TBI, but for troops still in the military, it would be a badge of honor.

“When it comes down to it: That Purple Heart is what truly says: ‘I was wounded in action for my country,’” he said. “Talk is talk but that award is what backs it up.”


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