Traumatic brain injuries become a priority in U.S. military
Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are being taken much more seriously in the U.S. armed forces now than ever. Doctors and scientists estimate that as many as twenty percent of troops returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan have some form and degree of TBI, ranging from blast related concussions to blunt force trauma and penetrating wounds.
Because the brain is the human body’s most complex and least understood organ, brain injuries have historically eluded diagnosis and treatment. Fortunately, our understanding of TBI, the “signature injury” of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, is rapidly improving.
Members of the Air Force, Army, Marines, and Navy are now required to take mandatory brain tests that measure cognitive skills. Troops who are deployed to war zones retake the brain tests when they arrive home after a tour of duty, and those results are compared to the original test results.
Senators Bill Frist (R-TN) and Barack Obama (D-IL) worked together to pass an amendment that ensures all returning service men and women are tested for TBI. As President, Obama is expected to increase funding for the diagnosis and treatment of TBI in veterans.
The latest studies estimate that about 360,000 men and women have returned from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan with some form of brain damage. Slowed thinking, memory loss, sleep disturbance, attention and concentration deficits, depression, and irritability are some of the most common signs of TBI. Many veterans also suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which typically exacerbates the symptoms of TBI and vice versa.
Six new TBI clinics have opened in military bases around the country and many more are being built, allowing veterans better access to treatment of TBI. Army Col. Rachel Armstrong, who oversees the TBI testing program, said that the goal is to have a brain injury specialist at every U.S. military installation. The brain injury center at Fort Campbell, which opened last September, has tested 400 returning soldiers for TBI. Fifteen percent of those soldiers are being treated for brain injuries.