Personal Injury

Returning troops bring attention to traumatic brain injuries

The Brain Injury Association of America recognizes March as Brain Injury Awareness Month, and Wednesday the Pentagon held a press conference that underscored the need for the public to know more about brain injuries, their causes, and their treatment. According to Pentagon officials, between 10 and 20 percent of American troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have sustained some degree of traumatic brain injury (TBI). The figure could be as low as 180,000 but as high as 360,000, Pentagon officials said.

Most of the troops with TBI received blast-related concussions from being in the proximity of roadside bombs and other explosives. Concussions, as we reported yesterday, are one of the most common causes of TBI, affecting as many as 3.8 million people in the Unites States. While concussions represent a mild form of brain injury, the symptoms can persist for weeks or months and could worsen if not properly treated.

Telltale signs of concussive brain injury include nausea, dizziness, blurred vision or double vision, sensitivity to light or noise, headache, sluggishness or fatigue, fogginess, confusion, trouble concentrating, and trouble remembering.

More severe brain injuries, such as penetrating head wounds, have longer lasting or permanent damage. Approximately 45,000 to 90,000 troops are afflicted with severe forms of TBI.

According to Lt. Col. Lynne Lowe of the Army Surgeon General’s office, the Army spent $242 million on staff, facilities, and treatment of brain injuries. That amount does not include what was spent by other branches of the armed forces for the treatment of TBI.

Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, the head of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, told the Associated Press that the work being done to heal troops with TBI will eventually benefit society at large. According to the AP report, “whether the injuries occur while people ride bicycles, play football, skateboard, or ski, ‘we know that this is an issue across the country,’ Sutton said.”

Dr. James Kelly, Director of the National Intrepid Center for brain injuries and psychological health, told the AP that historically it has been difficult bringing attention to the seriousness of brain injuries. “Brain injury was not recognized as a problem … of any consequence and was, especially in the sports community, often dismissed or trivialized,” he told the AP.

“I think that now you’re seeing it being taken very seriously,” Kelly told the AP. “The wartime experience has been a big part of that.”