In 1954, Nov. 11 became known as Veterans Day, a national holiday in honor of all American veterans, alive and deceased, who fought for the United States in the difficult times of war. The sacrifices these brave men and women made and continue to make are preserved through the historic observance of this holiday, but one physical sacrifice in particular has made its mark on both veterans and the American public – the traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Known as the “Signature Wound” of the Global War on Terror, a TBI occurs when someone has a sudden blow or jolt to the head causing a penetrating head injury or trauma that disrupts the brain’s functions. Data from the Brain Trauma Foundation suggests that nearly 33 percent of all Iraqi War veterans have some extent of TBI. Considering that soldiers are often subjected to concussive blasts from improvised explosive devices (IEDS), bullets, grenades and mines, it is urged that veterans be checked for TBI once returning home.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the leading causes of TBI from 2006 to 2010 were falls, which accounted for 40 percent of all TBIs in the nation. However, not far behind in the statistics were unintentional blunt trauma and motor vehicle crashes, making up 15 percent and 14 percent respectively. Also noted in the CDC’s study was how men were nearly three times more likely to pass away from a TBI-related death than women.
Unfortunately, symptoms of TBI have been difficult to diagnose considering they are what is referred to as “invisible,” or unable to be seen by outsiders. These so-called invisible symptoms of TBI may include emotional and cognitive issues, including memory loss, trouble retaining information, aggression, depression and confusion. Individuals suffering from TBI are also at a heightened risk for suicide due to the severe depression sufferers often experience.
Other indications of TBI that may be more noticeable are headaches, dizziness, balance issues, nausea, light sensitivity, fatigue and constant ringing in the ears. Symptoms may begin immediately after a concussive head injury, after a few weeks, or sometimes even months after a head injury. It is critical that family members, close friends and even co-workers of veterans understand and become aware of the signs of TBI, for it may be the difference between life and death.
Another sad fact of TBI is that there is little to no treatment that can reverse the initial damage done to the brain. Sometimes more severely damaged TBI patients require surgery to attempt to remove or repair the damaged blood vessels and brain tissue. Medication and alternative medicines are also used to deter painful symptoms like headaches, chronic pain, behavioral problems, depression and seizures.
In order to honor our veterans today, make an effort to remember the “Signature Wound” and how you can make a difference in the lives of veterans affected by TBI. A quote from Patrick Henry, a historical orator during America’s movement toward independence, accurately describes the respect we should have for our nation’s military forces:
“The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.”