A new campaign is underway to get service members and veterans with brain injuries to seek help. The new initiative is being launched by the Department of Defense and is being led by the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Centers (DVBIC).
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a significant health issue which affects service members and veterans during times of both peace and war. The Defense Department reports more than 330,000 service members have been diagnosed with TBI since 2000, but they know there are some who still need treatment to deal with lasting impacts from their injury.
Colonel Sidney Hinds, Director of the DVBIC, says whether the TBI is mild or severe, the cause is clearly defined.
“A traumatic brain injury is the result of any blow or jolt to the head that causes an alteration in consciousness or an impairment of memory.” said Hinds.
Colonel Hinds is a medical doctor, who is board certified in neurology and nuclear medicine. He says one of the biggest myths about TBI among service members is that they mostly occur in combat zones as the result of a blast. He says the truth is that motor vehicle collisions account for the majority of traumatic brain injuries in the military.
“The vast majority of those head injuries are actually diagnosed, back in garrison, back in home environments…not in the deployed environments and they’re caused by similar events that cause civilian traumatic brain injuries.” Hinds said. Symptoms of a TBI can be physical, cognitive, and emotional.
For veterans and service members, reporting lasting effects of a TBI seems to be a low priority. TBI sufferer Randy Gross says there’s a mentality that the individual can tough it out.
“We’re used to, if you fall off the bike, get back on and you’ll be fine. You know, when we grew up it was rub some dirt on it, you’ll be fine. Maybe, take an aspirin to it if you’re in football, but that’s not, I mean, we can’t expect people to do that,” Gross said, adding that the message behind the new campaign to get more people like him to get help is needed.
“The problem is that when individuals go so long without actually recognizing the symptoms, you know, the recovery is gonna be that much more difficult.” said Gross.
Colonel Hinds says symptoms vary with the severity of the TBI, but in general, lasting effects can be physical, cognitive, and even emotional.
The impacts of TBI are felt within each branch of the service and throughout both the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care systems.
In the VA, TBI has become a major focus, second only to recognition of the need for increased resources to provide health care and vocational retraining for individuals with a diagnosis of TBI, as they transition to veteran status.
Veterans may sustain TBIs throughout their lifespan, with the largest increase as the veterans enter into their 70s and 80s; these injuries are often caused by falls and result in high levels of disability. Active duty and reserve service members are at increased risk for sustaining a TBI compared to their civilian peers.
This is a result of several factors, including the specific demographics of the military; in general, young men between the ages of 18 to 24 are at greatest risk for TBI.
Many operational and training activities, which are routine in the military, are physically demanding and even potentially dangerous.
Military service members are increasingly deployed to areas where they are at risk for experiencing blast exposures from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), suicide bombers, land mines, mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades. These and other combat related activities put our military service members at increased risk for sustaining a TBI.
Although recent attention has been intensively focused on combat-related TBI, it should be noted that TBI is not uncommon even in garrison and can occur during usual daily activities.
Service members enjoy exciting leisure activities: They ride motorcycles, climb mountains, and parachute from planes for recreation. In addition, physical training is an integral part of the active duty service member’s everyday life. These activities are expected for our service members and contribute to a positive quality of life; but these activities also can increase risk for TBI.
DVBIC was founded in 1992, largely in response to the first Persian Gulf War, under the name Defense and Veterans Head Injury Program. At that time, its goal was to integrate specialized TBI care, research and education across military and veteran medical care systems.
Twenty years later they are a network of 16 centers, operating out of 11 military treatment facilities and five VA poly- trauma hospitals. The specific activities vary at each site and include research, helping service members, veterans and their families find and use the right services for their needs, providing education in military and civilian settings, providing direct care to service members, and assessing TBI injury data. (Source: NBC WSAV 3 & http://dvbic.dcoe.mil | Martin Staunton | January 12, 2016)
Thomas Crisp is a retired military officer from Whitmire.