The Army-wide Oct. 18 deadline to train and educate Soldiers on mild traumatic brain injury and post combat stress has passed, but the push to keep learning ways to treat these formerly taboo issues continues. Mary Susan Tolbert, director of the Fort Bragg Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic and also the clinical coordinator for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, said that as recently as a year ago there were between 12 to 15 patients seen per month for mTBI. In August that number increased to about 207 and Tolbert says the expectation is that the numbers will only rise as Soldiers return from deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq. "At least here at Fort Bragg, up until January, nobody really, and I mean nobody, really knew what to do with these guys who had these injuries but were still walking and talking and showing up to formations on time, but yet would simply act stupid. Of course they\'re not stupid, but that was just the perception and it still is in many peoples' minds. But it's a behavioral problem. A lot of Soldiers left the Army. A lot of Soldiers were escorted out of the Army. Starting in June, we thought, well, if a treatment works for severe cases for cognitive rehab, why wouldn't it work for mild to moderate'" said Dr. (Maj.) Ben Solomon, chief of the Traumatic Brain Injury Neurorehabilitation Clinic at Womack Army Medical Center. And so that's the treatment approach they took; moving forward in baby steps. It has become a sort of balancing act for Tolbert and Solomon, who continuously attempt to juggle the slow-paced treatment plans of injured Soldiers while at the same time trying to keep their heads from spinning in a rapidly progressive clinical setting. The clinic staff has grown in leaps and bounds, Tolbert noted. It went from a one-woman show trying to convince others of the validity and seriousness of the issues, to a full-on clinic with speech pathologists, occupational therapists, a physical therapist, case managers and anyone else they can pull in to join the fight of treating Soldiers for these unseen injuries. To say that looking around at all that she's accomplished is gratifying would be an understatement, she said. "We're looking ahead to when units redeploy so we can have assets in place," Solomon said. It's expected that about 30,000 troops are going to redeploy through Fort Bragg next year. It a rate of 20 percent estimated to have mTBI, well that's 6,000 Soldiers. Somewhere around 1.5 percent of those will need to be treated for cognitive rehab. That's 450 Soldiers," Solomon said. Rebekah MacLean, one of the clinic's speech pathologists, says she wouldn't trade her job for anything. "The most rewarding part for me is just working with Soldiers," MacLean said. "Listening to their war stories. I don't want to work with anybody but Soldiers. I just love those Soldiers, I really do." As the numbers of those being treated for mTBI and PCS continue to rise, so does the dedication of a Fort Bragg team known as the Traumatic Brain Injury Neurorehabilitation Clinic. As they drift into uncharted territories, they have no doubt that what they are

Page last updated Tue October 30th, 2007 at 15:01