Articles Posted in Iraq War

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DOD Live reported this weekend on developments coming out of the United States Department of Defense on the brain injury research front. As we have previously discussed, the Department of Defense is keenly interested in the issue, as brain injuries of different form are the number one injury affecting soldiers fighting overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan. But for so common an injury, specific understanding of the causes and best practices for treatment are few and far between.

Recently, the Department convened a symposium with a wide range of groups and individuals at the forefront of brain injury research. The event sought to discuss possible collaborations and generally point toward the future when it comes to treating traumatic brain injuries.

As a result of the event, the DOD decided to launch the first “brain tissue repository” in the hopes of compiling a systematic record to understand the injury and ultimately find cures.

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It seems that there are few areas of medical research attracting as much attention in recent months as those involving the brain. This probably should not be surprising, because the organ represents the least-charted part of the body yet. The complexity of the brain is such that there is still so much to be learned, and intrepid researchers interested in exploring uncharted territory and making advances that improve lives can likely find no more fruitful subject than the brain.

Their discoveries and the treatments that grow out of those developments are quite unique. For example, Pop Science explained recently about a new brain injury treatment device that “zaps” the tongue in order to re-build neural connections. The small machine is a reminder of the seemingly-bizarre nature of so many brain injury treatment issues. We truly do not know what will come next, but all advances that may help the lives of the those who experienced a brain injury are welcome.

Helping Soldiers Following a TBI

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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

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NC Times profiled a medical researcher-and former soldier-who is calling for stepped up efforts to develop real treatments that might help soldiers who experience brain injuries on the battlefield. The researcher, Kevin “Kit” Parker, was in charge of a group at Harvard that recently published new information about how certain battlefield blasts can lead to traumatic brain injuries. The new information was warmly welcomed by many in the scientific community. However, the wide coverage notwithstanding, the researcher has been disappointed that the findings have not been more vigorously used by those in a position to turn the information into treatments.

Specifically, the professor noted that no drug companies have been interested in taking the research to create new battlefield treatments. As our Chicago brain injury lawyers have often covered on this blog, blasts in Iraq and Afghanistan have affected tens of thousands of soldiers. Brain injuries are known as the “trademark” injury for both wars. The U.S. Department of Defense has stated that over 220,000 soldiers have experienced traumatic brain injuries since the two wars began over a decade ago. These injuries are particularly insidious because they are hard to detect and many victims may never fully understand the consequences of the injury. That is because they cannot be seen from the outside. The soldiers who suffer a TBI often have a perfectly intact body.

Considering the scope and severity of the problem, coming up with better diagnostic, treatment, and prevention measures is crucial.

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Scientists have long-been mesmerized by figuring out the intricate details of the human brain. The brain is still considered the most complex and sophisticated machine on the planet-its intricacies are what make us human. However, this presents a challenge when the brain is injured and in need of repair. The organ is so complicated that researchers are still unraveling its mysteries.

Our Chicago brain injury lawyers know that besides the complexities of the brain, another complication into its research is a problem common to all scientists-securing funding. Scientists are often competing for scarce resources to pursue various research endeavors that, piece by piece, get at the solution to problems. Recently there has been an increase in brain injury research (and funding). Many observers are pointing to the increase in military attention on the issue as the reason for the renewed effort to get to the bottom of some of these problems.

As a posting at the U.S. Department of Defense yesterday explained, the Army is leading the way in this area. The Army currently has 472 active research projects totaling $633 million focused specifically on traumatic brain injuries. Of course the military officials first drew attention to the issue because of the growing number of servicemembers in Iraq and Afghanistan who were coming home with these injuries. However, while military injuries may have driven the surge in research, our Illinois brain injury attorneys know that information obtained from the research has the potential to help all those hurt in this way.

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Talk of military brain injuries made big headlines this week after a grisly event in Afghanistan. Community members were no doubt horrified to read about a soldier who apparently “snapped” and went on a shooting spree in a small Afghan village. At least sixteen civilians, including several children, were killed. Not long after the soldier surrendered many observers began asking what might have caused the outburst-a traumatic brain injury was one immediate offered explanation.

According to various reports, the 38-year old accused gunman had been treated for a brain injury during his deployment. He had suffered what was then deemed a mild traumatic brain injury in a car accident. However, he cleared the mental stability tests that he was later forced to take to become a sniper. As our Chicago brain injury attorneys have often reported, the testing for these sorts of injuries remains somewhat unreliable. The full extent of head injuries are difficult for medical providers to identify.

This latest tragedy will no doubt throw more fuel onto the fire of those who are calling for stepped up research and treatment for these injuries. Since the attack many national neurological experts have already sent notice to the Department of Defense that the agency needs to invest more resources into brain injury research. One leading brain doctor summarized the feelings of many by explaining “I think what happened right now in Afghanistan should wake up the military even further. The military should say we need to invest a lot of Department of Defense money into figuring out how we can identify these people…”

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In our discussions about advances in traumatic brain injury research, the Illinois brain injury attorneys at our firm often discuss basic diagnostic challenges. This is a problem that is somewhat unique to these injuries. The focus of most major health problems is devoted exclusively to a cure or, at least, better management of the symptoms. However, with brain injuries there is the added complication of properly identifying when an injury has occurred at all.

As a major-general in the Army recently observed, “Everyone wants a pregnancy test for TBI.” But that pregnancy-test-like option does not exist. As a result, many individual who suffer these injuries are not diagnosed. They therefore do not receive proper treatment and often suffer extreme complications as a result. A story yesterday from KXAN delves into the topic, discussing the current methods used to diagnose TBI and trials being conducted to test the reliability of various treatments.

The story shares the tale of one Army private as he is engaged in a test, which measures response times via mental games. As part of the test, the taker is asked to name off animals that appear on a screen as quickly as possible. In another portion the taker must click on certain buttons when multiples of three appear on the screen.

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National Public Radio published an interesting story this week that summarizes the current state of research into ways to help returning service members that have suffered traumatic brain injuries. Thousands of soldiers have fallen victim to these injuries, which are often caused by hard knocks taken when in proximity to bomb blasts. Roadside bombs and other shellings are common in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and so traumatic brain injuries have been called the “signature” wound of these wars.

One soldier profiled for the story explains how he suffered one of his injuries-a tale shared by many fellow soldiers. He explained, “I was in the lead vehicle, which hit an IED [improvised explosive device]. I hit my head, blacked out for a little bit.” At first the man just shook off the wound. After all, they were in the heat of battle and had to pursue the fighter who had placed the device there in the first place. However, eventually, when things settled down a bit, he began feeling the aftereffects on the brain injury. When he was examined by a medic it became clear that he need to seek treatment immediately.

Unfortunately, like many victims in other circumstances, our Illinois brain injury lawyers know that many soldiers do not receive proper treatment following one of these situations. This is likely due in large part to the fact that traumatic brain injuries are not visible on the outside. They are caused by the violent shaking of the head which leads the brain to bump repeatedly on the inside of the skull. Symptoms are incredibly varied and may not manifest for a while after the actual trauma. In many cases the long-term effects of the injury can be avoided if proper treatment is sought. However, when they treatment is neglected then serious problems can develop.

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This week Medical News published a story on a new grant given to university researchers to study improved treatments for traumatic brain injury victims who suffer their injury while on the battlefield. As our Chicago brain injury lawyers discussed in a recent blog post, various groups (including those spearheaded by First Lady Michelle Obama) are working hard to improve the treatment of brain injured service members.

This latest grant apparently involves over $1.5 million given to researchers at the University of South Florida from the U.S. Department of Defense. The grant was given to conduct research on TBIs in connection with other battlefield injuries and diseases. University officials will collaborate with those at the James A. Haley Veteran’s Hospital on the effort. As with all of these research efforts, the ultimate goal is to improve the quality of life for those returning from combat. It remains tragic that so many who are coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq will face a life of struggle trying to overcome the myriad of problems that can be associated with the traumatic brain injury.

As those who will work on the project note, TBIs are fast becoming known as “the” signature issue affecting soldiers returning home from the wars. It is no surprise why. Traumatic explosive blasts can easily causes severe trauma to the heads of soldiers. That head trauma frequently damages the brain. The long-term impact of these injuries can affect nearly everything about the service member’s life from memory and decision-making to personality and motor skills. In addition, various symptoms also develop following the impact, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. The Department of Veterans Affairs has been working on finding ways to better treat those who have suffered these injuries. As many victims can attest, there is still a long way to go to ensure that all our soldiers receive the best possible brain injury treatment every time.

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Our Illinois brain injury lawyers were happy to read this week about a new traumatic brain injury initiative that is being spearheaded by First Lady Michelle Obama. As reported by the Associated Press, the announcement was made Wednesday by Mrs. Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joseph Biden. The launch of the initiative was made public during a ceremony at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. This particular medical school has been at the forefront in brain injury research. The hospital often partners with Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center Veteran’s Affairs Hospital to work with service member brain injury victims.

The initiative is centered on providing increased access to resources for victims, practitioners, educators, and all those involved in treating and researching traumatic brain injuries as well as post-traumatic stress disorder. The project is a joint effort partnering with an organization called “Joining Forces” which is a group working to encourage societal support for military personnel and their families. As blog readers know, returning service members from Iraq and Afghanistan often suffer these sorts of injuries while fighting overseas.

Over 100 medical school members of the American Association of Medical Colleges have committed to participate in the effort. In addition, another 25 schools from the American Association of Osteopathic Medicine will play a role in the project. In describing the program and its potential the First Lady noted, “By directing some of our brightest minds, our most cutting-edge research, and our finest teaching institutions toward our military families, they’re ensuring that those who have served our country receive the first-rate care that they have earned.”