National Guard pioneers long-term tracking of blast exposures
December 4, 2008
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq (Army News Service, Dec. 4, 2008) -- A new National Guard tool could improve long-term medical treatment for all servicemembers and boost research into traumatic brain injury and other health issues.
Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, director of the Army National Guard, sent Lt. Col. Maureen Weigl to Camp Victory, Iraq, to improve how Guardmembers' exposure to blasts from improvised explosive devices, indirect or mortar fire and other events is tracked.
Weigl's research uncovered no long-term blast or contaminant tracking.
"We hadn't been linking personnel to blast events," Weigl said. "I was asked to come over and review the personnel operating and medical systems currently in theater that could potentially track and link servicemembers to a blast exposure."
If nothing was available, Vaughn wanted something created, she said.
"A lot of Soldiers don't show symptoms right away," said Weigl, project officer with the Army National Guard office for the personnel blast/contaminant tracker. "And, a lot of times, there is nothing wrong with the servicemember.
"However, in the event there is something wrong five years down the road -- they develop symptoms such as headaches, ringing in the ear, vertigo -- something has to be captured so we can link the servicemembers, especially National Guard and Reserve component servicemembers."
That's because demobilized National Guardmembers back in their communities might not have the same easy local access as their active duty counterparts to military medical facilities where care providers are familiar with blast-related issues.
"Documenting this information ensures quality of care if they develop symptoms," Weigl said. "Having the documentation available to providers will give them the opportunity to treat the issues. Many Soldiers don't remember how many times they were exposed."
The database also could help with future line of duty investigations, Weigl said.
According to Army Regulation 600-8-4, an LOD investigation can occur after a Soldier suffers from a disease or injury. It helps determine pay and allowance entitlements; accrual of service and leave time; and disability retirement. A Soldier may be due benefits if the final determination is LOD and not their own misconduct.
"Developing a tracking system will allow us to create a line of duty down the road, if we need to," Weigl said.
Currently, servicemembers involved in an IED detonation or similar event are required to receive a mild acute concussive evaluation, or MACE.
"This tool is not meant to dilute the requirements for Soldiers to go and get a MACE," Weigl said. "Soldiers need to be treated and evaluated after incidents."
The database might actually help improve MACEs by ensuring everyone completes one, Weigl said. "This tool allows the medics to say, "Hey, I'm looking at the report: 15 people were in the impact area; only five servicemembers showed up for evaluation."
The new database developed by the National Guard adheres to privacy rules and does not include classified information. That means it can be widely accessed, open to unit commanders, medical personnel, researchers or historians. Units and individuals can receive reports, and previously deployed units can add past exposure information.
The database offers historical data that might help traumatic brain injury and other research, such as on long-term impacts to servicemembers of exposure to blasts and contaminants, offering information such as who was in an impact area and how close, Weigl said.
Weigl said the new blast-tracker was designed to be simple.
"We're not trying to put an extra burden on a unit administrator that's already burdened," she said.
The administrator types in social security and significant activity, or SIGACT, numbers and all the other database fields auto-populate, Weigl said.
The database is intended to be transparent to servicemembers, creating neither stigma nor an expectation of benefits, Weigl said.
Being included in the database doesn't mean that anything is wrong with a servicemember or ever will be. "It doesn't mean anything other than these individuals were in an impact area," she said. "It merely just links you to a significant activity."
The new system debuted in October.
"Right now, we're in the research and development phase," Weigl said.
The database -- currently being briefed to surgeons and sergeant majors -- is being included in the MODS or Medical Operational Data System that can be accessed by all services and the Department of Veterans Affairs, Weigl said.
"It is a Guard initiative, but it is not a Guard system," she said. "We made it for Army, Navy, Air Force, the Marines - for all servicemembers that are exposed to incidents and events. It is a multi-service tool."
(Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill writes for the National Guard Bureau. Army Staff Sgt. William Houk of the National Guard Bureau contributed.)