Sunday :: Nov 25, 2007

Iraq's Hidden Wounds: Traumatic Brain Injuries

by Mary

USA Today had a piece this week discussing the fact that the Pentagon could be underestimating the number of people who have been injured in the Iraq war. The problem is that soldiers exposed to IED blasts appear to be fine, but later, they find it very difficult to manage a normal life. As this story says, soldiers don't recognize the signs of the brain injuries they are experiencing. And what's really worrying?

With medication and rehabilitation training at nearby Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas, Landrus has improved.

"I still can't remember what I did the day before or stuff that I did earlier in the day," he says. He carries a Palm Pilot or a pad of paper to write down orders, numbers or dates, so he can remember them later. The headaches have never gone away.

Landrus will never fully recover, says Jessica Martinez, his lead therapist at Scripps.

"This is basically like an invisible injury," she says. "He looks like a normal guy. … But if you spend any amount of time with him … you would be able to notice that something's really happened."

The USA Today piece reports that there are some 20,000 Iraqi vets that are not being included in the casualty reports but have been wounded in the Pentagon numbers.

Yet, even this number could be wildly underestimated. As this Washington Post piece noted in April, neurologists worry that hundreds of thousands more soldiers could be affected by TBI (traumatic brain injury) from their service in Iraq.

Almost as daunting as treating TBI is the volume of such injuries coming out of Iraq. Macedo cited the estimates, gleaned at seminars with VA doctors, that as many as one-third of all combat forces are at risk of TBI. Military physicians have learned that significant neurological injuries should be suspected in any troops exposed to a blast, even if they were far from the explosion. Indeed, soldiers walking away from IED blasts have discovered that they often suffer from memory loss, short attention spans, muddled reasoning, headaches, confusion, anxiety, depression and irritability.

And these symptoms are not amenable to treatment. Filmed before the Iraq War started, Memento provides a cautionary tale about how damaging the type of brain injury Landrus describes can be to one's life.

The Iraq war has been a tremendous burden on the soldiers and their families who we've asked to fight, and we certainly must force the administration to do more for those who served and who have been forever changed.

Yet, as with all wars, today the Pentagon is spending time and energy in trying to see if there are new weapons and armor that will allow us to continue to wage these horrific wars. But nowhere is it asked: if our soldiers are affected by such blasts, what is the consequences for those who live in that benighted land? What is our responsibility to those caught in the cross-fire in a war they never chose?

Mary :: 4:23 PM :: Comments (8) :: Digg It!