Army study focuses on brain injury treatment
January 19, 2008
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Army is working to improve the way it identifies and treats soldiers suffering from traumatic brain injury in combat, particularly those troops with mild concussions, officials said Thursday.
According to an Army task force study, concussions — which the military calls mild traumatic brain injury, or TBI — are among the most common injuries for troops engaged in combat.
Up to 20 percent of troops exposed to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan may have suffered a mild TBI at some point during their deployment, according to the study, which was completed last May but not made public until a news conference Thursday.
Explosions from roadside or vehicle-borne bombs are the most frequent cause of the trauma, the study said.
The study, which was chartered by the Army’s Surgeon General in January 2007, found that the Army does a good job of treating troops suffering from severe head injuries, Brig. Gen. Donald Bradshaw, the task force’s chairman, said during the news conference.
But the task force found that the Army “is challenged to understand, diagnose and treat personnel who have suffered a mild TBI,” Bradshaw said.
The Army has made significant progress in recent months to close what the task force said are gaps in mild TBI identification and care, Bradshaw said.
For example, he said, the Army has developed a test that records cognitive skills such as short-term memory and reaction time, which soldiers take as a group before they deploy, individually in the war zone if they are exposed to blasts and again as a group when they return home.
The resulting data are helpful in measuring the effects of any mild brain trauma, Bradshaw said.
Part of the problem is that troops and commanders themselves tend to disregard the effects of mild TBI — often because it happens at the same time other soldiers are getting hurt much worse, task force member Col. Robert Labutta, an Army neurosurgeon, said.
A soldier might think he is ready to go back to duty, but could be more impaired by mild TBI than he understands, Labutta said.
“He might need to take a knee, and not go out on the next patrol.”
The good news, Labutta said, is that between 80 percent and 95 percent of mild TBI cases recover completely over time.
But soldiers need to know that while they are waiting for “tincture of time” to kick in, there are things that can be done to help that recovery process by treating individual symptoms, Labutta said.