March is National Brain Injury Awareness Month. Brain injuries, specifically traumatic brain injuries, are major health concerns in the military. Twelve percent of troops (about 320,000) returning from Iraq and Afghanistan reported experiencing TBI.
TBI is defined as a blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the function of the brain. "Concussion" is also used to describe TBIs. Symptoms of TBI include headaches, dizziness, tiredness, trouble concentrating, forgetting things, irritability, balance problems, trouble sleeping and changes in vision.
Service members can benefit from being aware of TBI and its symptoms because it is easy for TBI to be overlooked by a doctor. This could be because brain injury symptoms may not be apparent until weeks or months after a traumatic event. This is especially true with closed-head trauma where there are no visible effects such as bleeding or a broken skull.
TBI is hard to distinguish from other emotional or behavioral problems such as post traumatic stress disorder or depression. There are still many unknowns about injuries to the brain as a result of blasts or explosions. According to the New York Times, "These are the first wars [Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom] in which Soldiers protected by strong armor and rapid medical care, routinely survive explosions at close range and then return to combat."
Explosions or blasts are the leading cause of TBI for active duty military personnel in war zones.
There are two major things Soldiers and their families can do about TBI:
- Know the signs and symptoms of concussions and see a doctor if symptoms continue for more than three months.
- Keep the Defense Veterans Brain Injury Center phone number (1-800-870-9244) nearby. DVBIC can answer questions Soldiers might have on TBI or direct Soldiers to medical providers.
For deployed Soldiers, here are tips on how to protect against brain injuries:
- Wear a helmet or other appropriate head gear when on patrol or in other high-risk areas.
- Wear safety belts when traveling in vehicles.
- Check for obstacles and loose debris before climbing/rappelling down buildings or other structures.
- Maintain clean and orderly work environments that are free of debris.
- Be aware of what is on the ground around you at all times when aircraft rotors are turning.
- Use care when walking on wet, oily or sandy surfaces.
- Employ the buddy system when climbing ladders or working at heights.
For more information on TBI:
Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center: http://www.dvbic.org/TBI---The-Military/TBI-Facts.aspx
Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center: http://www.dvbic.org
Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center: http://glwach.amedd.army.mil/patient_care/clinics/tbi/TBI_Awareness.pdf
University of Washington Traumatic Brain Injury Model System: http://depts.washington.edu/uwtbi/Education/patiented.htm
New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/26/us/26tbi.html