Army Chief of Staff, NFL commissioner sign joint TBI initiative
The U.S. Military Academy hosted a joint panel discussion with the Army and NFL Aug. 30 to promote cultural change on traumatic brain injury, Soldier-athlete awareness and reducing the stigma caused by seeking treatment for concussions and other brain-related injuries. Photo by Tommy Gilligan/U.S. Military Academy

WEST POINT, N.Y. (Aug. 30, 2012) -- The U.S. Military Academy hosted a joint panel discussion with the Army and the NFL Aug. 30 to promote cultural change on traumatic brain injury, Soldier-athlete awareness and reducing the stigma caused by seeking treatment for concussions and other brain-related injuries.

The eight-member discussion panel assembled at Jefferson Hall included Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno; NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell; Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, Department of Neurological Surgery chairman, University of Washington; and Maj. Sarah Goldman, program director of the Army Traumatic Brain Injury at the Office of the Surgeon General, Rehabilitation and Reintegration Division.

Prior to the discussion, Odierno and Goodell signed a letter formalizing the joint initiative to help raise awareness and reduce the stigma associated with seeking treatment.

"The NFL has been a long-standing supporter of our Soldiers and our families so no matter where you go, you'll find them reaching out to us." Odierno said. "In the Army, we have the Warrior ethos, which is reinforced by the Soldier's Creed. This is essential for us; these same traits, although commendable, make it difficult for individuals to come forward with issues they have physically and mentally."

Goodell said not enough has been done to address the issue of TBI which is why the Army and the NFL have teamed up--to do better and make a difference.

"Gen. Odierno has taken the initiatives to bring us closer together----we have challenges, and we have similarities and opportunities," Goodell said. "We believe that together we can make a difference to some very complex problems. This represents the opportunity to share medical research to help both our organizations."

Frank Luntz, a political consultant and a fellow at Harvard University's Institute of Politics, moderated the event. Luntz asked the audience--consisted mostly of West Point cadets and active-duty service members--how many have suffered a concussion and then sought medical treatment.

Many initially raised their hands for the first query, and significantly less in response to seeking immediate assistance.

Staff Sgt. Shawn Hibbard, a U.S. Army Reservist in attendance, has experienced four separate concussions. He said it will be important for cadets upon commissioning as second lieutenants to become personally, professionally and mentally aware of their Soldiers while developing roles as mentors. Odierno also said noncommissioned officers and officers must look after each other, especially when they're less likely to look after themselves.

Odierno is also concerned about peer pressure infiltrating Army units and NFL teams, which cause Soldiers and players to hide their problems for fear of repercussions or being questioned of the legitimacy of their injury.

"The issue I worry about is peer pressure," Odierno said. "We talk about Warrior Ethos and the Soldier's Creed and that you'll always be there," Odierno said. "What I worry about is, does this make us afraid to come forward and admit we have a weakness, especially one you can't see? It's easier if you can see an injury, but what happens when you can't see it? I think we never have addressed concussions effectively in the Army before. People have to believe there will not be any repercussions."

Goldman spoke about the Department of Defense's recent policy regarding when a Soldier is involved in one of the four mandatory blasts in theater and what they need to do.

"It's called the Directive-Type Memorandum 09-033 and I would recommend that every one read this policy," Goldman said. "The highlights are that if you are within 50 meters of a blast, if you have a blow to the head or been involved in a vehicle collision or rollover, or if your commander is just concerned about you, there is a minimum of 24 hours of downtime. You must have medical clearance before going back on duty. Even if you are not concussed, there is still a minimum 24-hour downtime."

Goldman reported more than 13,000 service members sustained some form of brain injury since 2010 and 95 percent returned to duty.

The video of this panel discussion can be viewed at http://www.dvidshub.net/video/153394/tbi-agreement-signing.

Page last updated Thu August 30th, 2012 at 00:00