Congress several years ago commissioned a 15-year study on the impact of traumatic brain injury (TBI) on veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That was a grand gesture, to be sure, but it has one rather large problem: The Department of Defense hasn’t been granted any funding to undertake this work.
The first report to come out of this ongoing, and unfunded, study of TBI says that combat veterans are having problems stemming from their head wounds five years after they occurred.
The Department of Defense last month sent a copy of this report to members of Congress, and the bottom line is that “a high proportion of service members who sustain mild, moderate and severe TBIs continue to report significant symptoms and and problems within the first five years post-injury, requiring continued care and support,” according to a letter from Acting Under Secretary of Defense Jessica Wright.
This study kicked off in 2011, and the first two-year review was just due. In the report’s last page, the Defense Department lamented its financial situation, saying “there is no identified funding mechanism at present” for the TBI study.
“Although DVBIC (Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center) has been charged with addressing the Congressional mandate, no financial resources have been assigned to DVBIC in order to specifically fund the operating costs of the 15-year studies,” the report states.
The Department Department estimated that it will need a $37.1 million budget, or $2.5 million a year, for the project. The first report cost $3,650, which was the amount of Defense Department labor entailed,
That funding issue doesn’t seem easily solved, since the Defense Department has been hit by sequestration and is financially pinched it expects to have layoffs next year.
The first report doesn’t sugar coat the problems that TBIs create for service members, and it even has a term for these issues: Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS). The diagnosis of PCS, defined as “an impairment of cognitive functioning that occurs as a result of TBI with symptoms that can last at least three months,” is complicated, the report says.
“There are many factors that can cause, maintain, or mimic self-reported PCS symptoms (cognitive, physical and behavioral); as a result, clinicians cannot assume that presence of post-concussion symptoms is indicative of PCS,” the report states.
One of the conclusions of the report is that there should be an extended follow-up for “all” service members who sustain a combat-related TBI, regard of “the presence/absence of symptoms within the first few months post-injury.”
The Defense Department also said that it is conducting a “sub-study” to assess the effect on a service member’s family when he or she sustains a TBI. By the study’s fifth year, there should be data on caregivers’ employment and financial status, as well as as their mental health — whether they are experiencing anger, depression and anxiety, for example.
This study shows great promise, but it is going to need funding to American vets with TBI.