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U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), a combat veteran and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, secured a provision in this year’s annual defense bill—the FY2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)—to standardize how the Navy and the Air Force diagnose traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) so that their processes are consistent with other military branches.

“Brain injuries can have a lasting impact on our servicemembers, and it’s important our military has a consistent process to evaluate and address them, especially when it could affect their eligibility for benefits,” said Senator Joni Ernst. “This commonsense measure requires the Pentagon to ensure traumatic brain injuries are being properly evaluated across all military branches.”


The Government Accountability Office (GAO), a nonpartisan watchdog agency, found that, due to the military services having inconsistent policies evaluating TBIs and PTSD, some servicemembers who are separated for misconduct may not receive the proper evaluation and be given an “other than honorable” discharge, making them potentially ineligible for certain veterans’ health benefits. The GAO therefore recommended for the Navy and Air Force to bring their TBI and PTSD evaluation processes in line with the other branches to reconcile their inconsistencies. Ernst’s provision, which she inserted into the base text of the FY2023 NDAA, will fully implement GAO’s recommendations.

Ernst has long pushed to improve the mitigation and treatment of servicemembers’ TBIs. Ernst partnered with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on bipartisan legislation, called the Blast Pressure Exposure Study Improvement Act, to improve research on TBI among servicemembers and strengthen capacity to track and mitigate blast pressure exposure. Their bipartisan bill was included in the FY2020 NDAA.

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