This Memorial Day, as we honor the men and women who serve our nation in the armed forces, it also may be a good time to remember some of the battles they face at home: the struggle to readapt to home and family life, to find suitable employment, to ease the physical wounds and emotional scars of war – these are just some of the fights awaiting most veterans when they leave the battlefield for the safety and security of home.
One-third of all troops returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from an injury that isn’t always easy to see and may in fact go undetected for months or even years: traumatic brain injury or TBI.
TBI is usually brought about by a blow or jolt to the head that causes the brain to violently shake within the cranium. TBIs can be as mild as a light concussion to a more severe penetrating injury caused by a bullet, shrapnel, or other projectile. In the case of troops serving in combat today, most TBIs are caused by concussive blast waves of explosions and vehicular crashes.
Military and health analysts believe the prominence of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) used by hostile opponents in Iran and Afghanistan is the reason why more than twice as many servicemen and women are returning home with TBI compared to the Vietnam war. Vehicular crashes are the leading cause of TBI for civilians in the U.S.
The effects of TBI run the gamut from barely noticeable to physically and mentally debilitating. Injuries are often temporary and recoverable, but can be permanently disabling, especially if the injury remains undetected and untreated in the critical early stages of the injury. Headache, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, lapse of judgment, difficulty with balance and coordination, mood swings, depression, suicidal thoughts, and cognitive decline are just some of the ways TBI manifests itself in victims.
To help minimize the risk of TBI in a combat setting and at home, the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center has developed the following list of tips to keep in mind:
Prevention in a combat setting:
- Wear helmet or other appropriate head gear when on patrol or in other high risk areas
- Wear safety belts when traveling in vehicles
- Check for obstacles and loose debris before climbing/rappelling down buildings or other structures
- Inspect weapons prior to use
- Verify target and consider potential for ricochet prior to firing weapon
- Maintain clean and orderly work environments that are free of foreign object debris
- Be aware of what is on the ground around you at all times when aircraft rotors are turning
- Use care when walking on wet, oily or sandy surfaces
- Employ the buddy system when climbing ladders, working at heights
Prevention at home:
- Wear a seat belt every time you drive or ride in a motor vehicle
- Never drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Always buckle your child into a child safety seat, booster seat, or seat belt (depending on the child’s height, weight, and age) in the car
- Wear a helmet and make sure your children wear helmets when:
- Riding a bike, motorcycle, snow mobile, or all-terrain vehicle
- Playing a contact sport, such as football, ice hockey, or boxing
- Using in-line skates or riding a skateboard
- Batting and running bases in baseball or softball
- Riding a horse
- Skiing or snowboarding
- Avoid falls in the home by:
- Using a step stool with a grab bar to reach objects on high shelves
- Installing handrails on stairways
- Installing window guards to keep young children from falling out of open windows
- Using safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs when young children are around
- Maintaining a regular exercise program to improve strength, balance, and coordination
- Removing tripping hazards, using non-slip mats in the bathtub and on shower floors, and putting grab bars next to the toilet and in the tub or shower
- Making sure the surface on your child’s playground is made of shock-absorbing material (e.g., hardwood mulch, sand)
- Keep firearms stored unloaded in a locked cabinet or safe. Store bullets in a separate secure location