TBI Redux: ‘Signature Injury’ of Recent U.S. Wars Too Often Undiagnosed, Untreated

The military medical system is failing to diagnose brain injuries in troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom receive little or no treatment for lingering health problems, an investigation by NPR and ProPublica has found.

So-called mild traumatic brain injury has been called one of the wars’ signature wounds. Shock waves from roadside bombs can ripple through soldiers’ brains, causing damage that sometimes leaves no visible scars but may cause lasting mental and physical harm.

Officially, military figures say about 115,000 troops have suffered mild traumatic brain injuries since the wars began. But top Army officials acknowledged in interviews that those statistics likely understate the true toll. Tens of thousands of troops with such wounds have gone uncounted, according to unpublished military research obtained by NPR and ProPublica.

That’s from a story this week from National Public Radio (NPR). You can read it or download it and listen to it as a podcast, but whichever you do, you’ll come away with a vivid understanding of how much those who’ve been injured in Iraq and Afghanistan are really suffering from mild traumatic brain injury (TBI).

But how can an injury be both “mild” and “traumatic” at the same time? An excellent question. Don’t let the name fool you. This isn’t something people make up because it’s invisible and the symptoms are nonspecific enough to prevent either solid diagnosis or outright dismissal by clinicians or the military bureaucracy.

In fact, AJN ran a major feature about TBIs in the April 2008 issue (the chance for nurses to get CE credit on this article has, unfortunately, expired). It focuses in particular on those who sustain other, more obviously serious injuries, injuries that lead those treating them in the field or later to fail to assess for or treat TBI.

Nurses can expect to see these patients in every kind of practice for many years to come. Screening protocols are given, as well as a case study and a look at who is at risk for TBI and how it should be treated. We hope you’ll have a look, and then tell us your stories about either dealing with TBI or treating those who have the condition, which can be chronic and profoundly disabling. -Jacob Molyneux, senior editor/blog editor

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2016-11-21T13:17:14+00:00 June 11th, 2010|Nursing|1 Comment
Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.

One Comment

  1. Deborah Seaman 1LT, ANC June 12, 2010 at 12:32 am

    As an Army nurse and veteran I am pleased to see AJN’s coverage of TBIs. Nurses on the homefront will be aware of the issue and carefully and correctly assess returning veterans.Often these men and women are citizen-soldiers going back to civilian lives and utilizing our civilian healthcare sysytems.Great work!

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