May 30, 2023

By Gabriel Adams

Those men and women who choose to serve their country in the military unfortunately run a higher risk of incurring a traumatic brain injury (TBI) than those civilians who might be exposed to less risk. One reason for this is that military personnel are under a high risk for being involved in car accidents, which are the most common cause of all TBIs. In addition, military personnel are consistently at risk of being injured by powerful munitions, which can also cause a brain injury through concussive force. Though military service does exposed personnel to the risk of a penetrative brain injury, such as caused by a bullet or shrapnel, an even greater risk exists for a TBI caused by a concussive blast wave as a result of an explosive. The high occurrence of explosions due to improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in combat theaters such as Iraq and Afghanistan means American troops in the field are at a high risk of incurring a TBI.

Afghanistan, Iraq Conflicts a Major Risk Factor for Traumatic Brain Injury

We now know those who have served in Afghanistan or Iraq are at a much higher risk of TBI than combat veterans from previous wars. In the Vietnam War, 14 to 18 percent of all veterans had a brain injury. Today, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center says 31 percent of those admitted between January 2003 and May 2005 had some kind of brain injury. A 2005 study in the New England Journal of Medicine attributed these higher numbers in part to advancements in munitions, especially improvised explosive devices, and in part to improvements in body armor, which protects soldiers from what would previously have been a fatal penetrative wound, but not from a nonfatal blast injury.


Misdiagnosed/Undiagnosed Traumatic Brain Injury in Soldiers

Because the symptoms of a traumatic brain injury often do not appear until weeks after the injury is sustained, it is not uncommon for a TBI to go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. This is especially true when the symptoms of a TBI are subtle, such as a personality change or emotional problems, which are easy for strangers to miss. There does exist some evidence that such symptoms may occasionally be misdiagnosed as pure psychological, or even a result of a soldier’s malingering, partly due to the lack of resources and traumatic brain injury expertise that combat doctors might be forced to deal with.

And as Commander James Dunne, lead trauma surgeon at the National Naval Medical Center, observed at a 2006 summit of military physicians, the long-term consequences of an undiagnosed TBI can be devastating. Those servicemen and women with an undiagnosed brain injury can lose all-too-important treatment time, which can prolong recovery time and possibly cause serious personal complications and setbacks. Because side effects of a traumatic brain injury include behavioral and emotional problems, especially depression, TBIs can hold discharged soldiers back from reintegrating into civilian society or even from continued success in the armed services.

A 1996 medical study showed that a behavior-related discharge from the military was 1.8 times more likely for a TBI patient than for a soldier without a TBI. Trouble with motor skills, memory and the senses, some of the more common side effects of a TBI, can also severely hamper a veteran’s ability to find a job, care for family members, or perform other vital life tasks. And without a diagnosis, military TBI patients may be liable for tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of medical bills, on top of lost wages.

Proper helmets and body armor, particularly the newest Kevlar armor, remain the best way to prevent a traumatic brain injury among those who serve in the military. It is also important to have rapid diagnosis and quickly implemented treatment of a TBI to prevent secondary injuries due to the chemical and physical changes to the brain that can accompany a TBI, swelling for example. It can also minimize the cost, both personal and financial, of the injury to the soldier and his or her loved ones. If you believe that you or one of your loved ones might have an undiagnosed service-related TBI, an experienced brain injury attorney can help you get the help and compensation you deserve.

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