Monday, December 08, 2008

Panel advises more screening of troops for brain injuries

The New York Times reports that a panel advising the U.S. military recommends more screening of troops for traumatic brain injuries, the signature injury of the Iraq war.

TBIs are invisible injuries. A TBI may well go unnoticed at first. Additionally, they can have lifelong and debilitating consequences. This can be a bad combination for people going back to school: they may be unable to concentrate, but if undiagnosed, they may also not know why they are having difficulty focusing. At their worst, TBIs can cause personality changes and lead to increased domestic violence, as the Brain Injury Association of Queensland explains. (Ironically, TBIs also are a frequent effect of domestic violence.) This coupled with PTSD can be a lethal combination. Help Starts Here, a site run by social workers, discusses other consequences of PTSD and TBI, such as substance abuse and homelessness.

This especially concerns me, as I myself am a TBI survivor. I sustained a TBI in a car v bike accident. Obviously the health professionals who stabilized me after the accident deserve much credit, but in the long term, immediate screening for brain injury and immediate access to TBI rehabilitation professionals made the most difference in my recovery. As I was being discharged, one neurologist wheeled me from my room to the TBI rehab facility in the hospital and had me signed up. I was confused and disoriented, and neither I nor my parents would have known to go there if not for that doctor. A veterans group also identifies face to face assessments as a major, pressing need:

Tom Tarantino, a policy associate at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, who served as an Army platoon leader in Iraq in 2005, said careful assessment of head injuries was especially important in decisions on redeployment. “Our highest mental health priority right now is to have face-to-face assessments done, by professionals, after redeployment.”

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