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Continuing Challenges of Identifying TBI

The Huffington Post reported this week on the disappointing truth that even after spending millions and devoting years to hammering out better identification methods for traumatic brain injuries, we still have a long way to go.

Much of the work has centered on the military. TBIs, including concussions, are in many ways the “signature” wound of the ongoing fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. For that reason, many military resources were steered toward not only developing better treatment options for the injured soldiers but also developing better ways to identify when they have been injured at all. Yet, these remains significant challenges.

Identifying and Understanding TBI
The story notes that the mechanics of the injury are unclear. Scientists are still looking at the brain to figure out how the blast or shock to the head actually causes problems like insomnia, dizziness, memory loss, headaches, and more. They do not yet know what happens in the brain to cause these harms.

This is on top of confusion about exactly when a soldier suffers from a concussion. The more severe TBIs are easier to diagnose, as they can be picked up on brain scanners. But concussions (called “mild’ TBI–mTBI–by the military) are far harder to identify. These injuries cannot be identified by a brain scan and may not cause physical damage. However, the mTBI still can leave the soldier with serious functioning problems.

The gap in knowledge translates into real problems for treatment. Without definitive understanding about who is affected, the best many get is “rest and reassurance.” This is helpful but far from adequate. Many soldiers may not be diagnosed at all. The consequences from the injury may manifest years down the road, particularly if the soldier does not receive the therapy they need that might help limit the long-term harm.

Unfortunately, even the risk of long-term harm itself is uncertain and disputed. Many Defense Department officials have suggested that soldiers will not suffer long-term effects from some TBIs, but other researcher suggest otherwise. There remains a gap in long-term studies which show the actual severity of these long-term effects.

Real World Military TBI Harm
Our attorneys know that perhaps nothing illustrates the dangers of these situations better than real-world stories. For example, the article shares the story of a 26-year old private who was deployed in Iraq. He was there for two tours, spending a total of 27 months in the war zone. Over the course of that time he faces six IED blasts, one of which knocked him unconscious. He experienced pain, sleeplessness, and anxiety–but he was never diagnosed with a TBI.

It was only after he was dismissed from active duty for drug use that he sought help at a VA hospital. He continues to have memory problems, speech difficulty, and focus problems. All of this has made it incredibly difficult for him to find a job or complete his education.

This soldier is not alone, as over 250,000 soldiers have been diagnosed with TBIs–many others may have been similarly affected but diagnosed. It is likely impossible to fully identify the amount of damage these injuries have done on the lives of our servicemembers.

See Our Related Blog Posts:

Brain Injury Research Spurred by Military Action

Advocates Call for Passage of Brain Injury Plan Act