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…”
Along the same lines, as reported in the Fayetteville Observer, many are urging soldiers themselves to take close stock of own mental health. By their nature, many soldiers are prone to hide injuries in the hopes of staying in a fight or remaining with their unit. That is particularly true with brain injuries, because the harm is not visible-admitting injury may seem a sign of internal weakness. Yet, far from being true, stepped-up self-reporting of these injuries can go a long way to keep soldiers healthy.
The article shares the story of one Sergeant Major who admits that he hid the symptoms he was suffered from following a battlefield blast. He had short term memory loss, dizziness, and headaches, but he kept that to himself so that he could return to duty sooner. However, the Sergeant Major now speaks to groups of fellow soldiers about his injury in an effort to raise awareness of traumatic brain injuries and the need to take them seriously.
Major General Richard Stone-the Army’s deputy surgeon general-has also taken a lead in raising awareness of these injuries. He explains that head injuries have risen by 35% among soldiers over the last six years. That maybe a good thing, he notes, because it might represent greater awareness of these injuries and the need to report them. Hopefully those trends continue, so that soldiers who need help receive it, preventing the quite severe long-term harm that could be caused by untreated head injuries.
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