MIlitary and Traumatic Brain Injury

Each year the number of US. veterans increase as soldiers returning from America’s most recent wars come home. As the survivors are welcomed home after pursuing a dutiful career serving their country, a new generation of men and women suffering from mild to severe traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are greeted with battled medical budgets and flawed TBI technologies, which don’t provide the necessary services and treatments required to improve their newly developed disabilities.

With an average of 1.4 million Americans undergoing some form of TBI, the number of scientists and researchers striving to cure these individuals should be ever increasing, however, dwindling budgets continue to compress and squeeze war-related brain injury funding. In 2006, the U.S. House and Senate slashed the allocated funding for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) in half from the previous year.
Traumatic brain injury is the “signature” injury of the Iraq war, according to military doctors and experts. It is imperative for struggling soldiers to find assistance with their TBI-related disability.

What is Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)?

A traumatic brain injury occurs when a person’s brain is physically injured, usually by a sudden force. With military members, this is often the result of a concussive blast or explosion. It can also be caused by falls, motor vehicle accidents, assaults, or any sudden blow to the head.  Because the damage is internal, there may be no visible head wound.

In prior conflicts, approximately 14% – 20% of surviving casualties had a TBI.

What are the Symptoms of TBI?

Every brain injury is unique and symptoms can vary widely.  Damage to different parts of the brain will result in different symptoms.  TBI shares symptoms with other physical and mental health conditions, such as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, which complicates diagnosis.  Below are some of the symptoms.  Having some of them, however, does not necessarily mean a person has TBI.  Only a doctor can definitively identify and diagnose a TBI.

Common Symptoms Immediately After Injury

  • Being Dazed, confused, or “seeing stars”
  • Not remembering the injury
  • Losing consciousness (being knocked out)

Common Symptoms Later On

  • Persistent headache or neck pain
  • Sensitivity to light and noise
  • Loss of balance
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Feeling tired all the time, lacking energy
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Loss of sense of smell and taste
  • Slowness in thinking, acting, speaking or reading
  • Symptoms that may appear to be mental health conditions
    • Sudden mood changes for little or no reason
    • Difficulty managing relationships
    • Chronic anxiety, depression, apathy
  • Short term memory loss
  • Getting lost or easily confused
  • Having more trouble than usual with
    • Paying attention or concentrating
    • Organizing daily tasks
    • Making decisions

In May 2006, the co-founder of the DVBIC testified to a Senate subcommittee that while “body armor may save troops caught in blasts it leaves many with brain damage,” according to a USA Today news report. Additionally, the article cited several disturbing statistics on the state of TBI and war veterans.

· 10 percent of all troops in Iraq suffer from concussions during combat.

· 20 percent of all frontline infantry troops suffer from concussions during combat.

· Scientists believe the Pentagon must screen all troops returning from Iraq.

· The Pentagon has declined screenings for all returning troops and only screens a small population of soldiers.

· If left untreated or untested, multiple head injuries and concussions can cause permanent brain injury.

Also, several equally disturbing statistics have been reported from several specialized journals including Brain Injury, Internal Medicine, Soldiers Magazine, MIT’s Technology Review and Perspectives in Psychiatric Care. These statistics area as follow:

· Nearly 25 percent of all military veterans of the Iraq war are diagnosed with a mental illness.

· War-related TBI patients often manifest distinct personality changes.

· Of the 35,000 soldiers screened for TBI, approximately 11 percent have had symptoms of mild TBI.

· No treatments currently exist to cure long-lasting symptoms of TBI.

While all this information may seem bleak, it is important to note that the majority of individuals who sustain a mild traumatic brain injury will completely recover in a matter of weeks to months.

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