Two recent studies found that the concussions and mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) that our troops have suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan are tied to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicide, USA Today reported this week.
Excuse me, I don’t mean to be sarcastic, but did we really need two studies to tell us this? Could anything be more obvious? Maybe it’s obvious to me because my specialty as a lawyer is TBI.
The two studies published in The Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation make one point that does need to be hammered home, namely that it can be very difficult to diagnose damage to the brain. You may not have had a leg blown off by a roadside bomb, but your brain may have been injured, injuries that can’t be spotted with the eye, invisible wounds from the explosion’s pressure waves.
USA Today quoted a Pentagon brain specialist who said that the studies show that TBI sustained in combat makes soldiers more susceptible to PTSD and suicide. Military suicides have been skyrocketing, up 13 percent to 349 last year, the newspaper reported.
It’s almost become a cliché, but mild brain damage is been named “the signature wound” of the wars Iraq and Afghanistan wars because improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, have been the weapon du jour of those battlefronts.
The key to treating TBI is to diagnose it and take any troops who have it out of combat so they can recover, USA Today said. The typical symptoms are headaches, loss of consciousness and dizziness.
However, research — paid for by the Department of Veterans Affairs at the University of Rochester School Medicine – that employed a new, sensitive MRI scan discovered brain lesions in service members who were exposed to a blast, but didn’t have any usual TBI symptoms.
“The damage was linked with cases of severe PTSD, underscoring a theory that these lesions can render a person more susceptible to developing that mental illness,” USA Today wrote.
Another study, this one by the National Center for Veterans Studies, had a surprising finding. Soldiers who had less serious cases of mild TBI had a higher risk of suicidal thoughts than those whose symptoms, including of consciousness, were worse, according to USA Today.