Army Task Force Suggests Plan for Dealing with Brain Injuries
> 1/18/2008 2:53:58 PM

After criticism for letting many soldiers fall through the cracks, the army began multiple initiatives to better identify and treat brain injuries. We have reported on multiple concrete programs put into place to deal with brain injuries, from testing soldiers before and after deployment to installing sensors in their helmets that record head acceleration during trauma such as nearby explosions. Methodical assessment programs like these are important because the most insidious and common type of brain injury, mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI), is extremely difficult to detect. In conjunction with specific measurement and treatment programs, the army has been working on general problems and solutions; an army task force, led by Brig. Gen. Donald Bradshaw, just released a thorough analysis of the current deficits in coverage and the steps that are necessary to complete the safety net.

Bradshaw gives a balanced account of what is working and what needs improvement:

"The Army has done well in the identifying and treatment of severe or penetrating traumatic brain injury, but is challenged to understand, diagnose and treat personnel who have suffered short-term or persistent symptoms of mild TBI... Continued research in this area can only help us more clearly understand the medical impacts of the war and the best ways to prevent, recognize and treat Soldiers with TBI."

The report goes on to make 47 recommendations, eight of which are already being implemented. One of the most interesting programs already in motion is an attempt to educate people about the signs of and treatment options for MTBI. The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder/Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Chain Teaching program was established last year to teach soldiers not only how to look for the symptoms of MTBI in their comrades, but also that they have an obligation to look out for each other and report any suspected injuries. This lesson about obligation is important, because military culture, with its focus on toughness and continuing without complaint, often encourages soldiers to stay silent about injuries in themselves or their squad-mates.

Col. Jonathan Jaffin explains that the education program has wide goals. Ultimately, the army wants to spread knowledge about MTBI to the reserve forces, and then to civilians. This may result in veterans receiving better private treatment and more understanding when they try to reintegrate into a society that knows little about the persistent problems associated with MTBI, which can can run the gamut from cognitive impairment and memory loss to irritability and depression. The report estimates that 10%-20% of soldiers who saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered MTBI, so it is good news that the army has come up with both specific practical plans and long-term goals to deal with this grave problem.

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