Army Task Force Cites Major Gaps in Brain Injury Treatment
There are "major gaps" in identifying and treating traumatic brain injuries in servicemembers, according to an Army task force report released on Thursday, USA Today reports.
According to the report, which was completed in May 2007, the gaps "were created by a lack of coordination and policy-driven approaches." The task force found gaps in the identification and treatment of soldiers who have mild traumatic brain injuries often resulting from exposure to roadside bomb blasts, despite the fact that researchers at the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center in 2004 developed ways of identifying the injuries.
According to the Army, 10% to 20% of Marines and soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq might have experienced brain injuries, which often have no outward signs of injury. According to USA Today, at least 20,000 servicemembers from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with or have shown signs of brain injury (Zoroya, USA Today, 1/18).
More than 80% of servicemembers who have mild brain injuries and receive proper treatment completely recover, the task force said. According to Col. Robert Labutta, a neurosurgeon with the Army surgeon general's office, less than half of servicemembers who have experienced a mild traumatic brain injury in combat have persistent symptoms associated with it (Hefling, AP/Contra Costa Times, 1/18).
The task force in May made 48 recommendations to improve the diagnosis, treatment and research into brain injury. Nine of those recommendations have been implemented, and 31 are being addressed. Recommendations that have not been addressed include establishing better ways of tracking the incidents of brain injury and identifying former soldiers who may have experienced a brain injury, but left the service; expanding baseline testing of a soldier's brain functions; and standardizing care and treatment for soldiers with brain injuries at all Army hospitals.
Judith Ruiz, a task force member and program manager for traumatic brain injury, said, "Since the release of the report (in May), we've been working arduously to put these recommendations into action."
Brig. Gen. Donald Bradshaw, the task force's chair, said, "This is a very complex process and so the fact that we've made headway on all of these recommendations is really very, I think, laudatory" (USA Today, 1/18). He added that, although the Army has a handle on treating more severe brain injuries, it is "challenged to understand, diagnose and treat military personnel who suffer with mild" traumatic brain injuries (AP/Contra Costa Times, 1/18).