Incidence of Traumatic Brain Injury in the Military

Men and women that serve their county in the military sadly run a higher risk of incurring a debilitating traumatic brain injury (TBI) that do those civilians who might be exposed to less risk-filled situations. Not only is there a probability that military servicemen and women could suffer a TBI in an auto accident (the number one cause of TBIs in the civilian world), but those in the military, especially those in active combat duty, are consistently exposed to a host of other dangers as well. Military personnel might incur a TBI as a result of a piercing brain injury, such as from shrapnel or live rounds, or even more commonly, from a concussive blast. Even if the skull is not broken, the force of a medium to large sized explosion, such as might be cause by the all-too-common improvised explosive devices (IEDs) found in Iraq and Afghanistan, can cause serious and permanent brain damage in the form of a TBI.

Afghanistan, Iraq Conflicts a Major Risk Factor for Traumatic Brain Injury

We now know those who have served in Afghanistan or Iraq are at a much higher risk of TBI than combat veterans from previous wars. In the Vietnam War, 14 to 18 percent of all veterans had a brain injury. Today, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center says 31 percent of those admitted between January 2003 and May 2005 had some kind of brain injury. A 2005 study in the New England Journal of Medicine attributed these higher numbers in part to advancements in munitions, especially improvised explosive devices, and in part to improvements in body armor, which protects soldiers from what would previously have been a fatal penetrative wound, but not from a nonfatal blast injury.

Misdiagnosed/Undiagnosed Traumatic Brain Injury in Soldiers

Because the symptoms of a traumatic brain injury often do not appear until weeks after the injury is sustained, it is not uncommon for a TBI to go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. This is especially true when the symptoms of a TBI are subtle, such as a personality change or emotional problems, which are easy for strangers to miss. There does exist some evidence that such symptoms may occasionally be misdiagnosed as pure psychological, or even a result of a soldier’s malingering, partly due to the lack of resources and traumatic brain injury expertise that combat doctors might be forced to deal with.

And as Commander James Dunne, lead trauma surgeon at the National Naval Medical Center, observed at a 2006 summit of military physicians, the long-term consequences of an undiagnosed TBI can be devastating. Service members with an undiagnosed TBI lose precious treatment time, holding back their recoveries and causing complications in their personal lives. Because side effects of a traumatic brain injury include behavioral and emotional problems, especially depression, TBIs can hold discharged soldiers back from reintegrating into civilian society or even from continued success in the armed services.

A 1996 medical study showed that a behavior-related discharge from the military was 1.8 times more likely for a TBI patient than for a soldier without a TBI. Difficulties with memory, motor skills and the senses, more common side effects of brain damage, can also affect veterans’ ability to get a job, care for a family or perform other life functions. And without a diagnosis, military TBI patients may be liable for tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of medical bills, on top of lost wages.

Proper helmets and body armor, particularly the newest Kevlar armor, remain the best way to prevent a traumatic brain injury among those who serve in the military. It is also important to have rapid diagnosis and quickly implemented treatment of a TBI to prevent secondary injuries due to the chemical and physical changes to the brain that can accompany a TBI, swelling for example. It can also minimize the cost, both personal and financial, of the injury to the soldier and his or her loved ones. If you believe that you or one of your loved ones might have an undiagnosed service-related TBI, an experienced brain injury attorney can help you get the help and compensation you deserve.