Mild and serious brain injuries, seen increasingly among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, can lead to long-term problems reminiscent of Alzheimer’s disease.
Problems observed include seizures, aggression and dementia are noted in a report issued Thursday by the nonprofit, Institute of Medicine. Also noted are depression symptoms, Parkinson’s-disease-like tremors and unemployment. The report is being called a wake-up call.
Researchers looked at 1,900 studies on traumatic brain injuries. They were looking for problems that persisted long-term among returning veterans.
Since brain injuries were not as survivable as they are today, there is not much history of treatment to go on.
A recent report by the Rand Corp estimated that among 300,000 troops returning from overseas, one in five had suffered a traumatic brain injury. Between 2002 and 2004, the numbers of veterans claiming unemployment for ex-service members increased by about 75 percent.
The cost is more than one-half billion dollars in treatment and lost productivity, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The soft tissue of the brain can be injured by explosions, shrapnel, or blows to the head. The outcomes are unpredictable. Even when a person does not lose consciousness, an injury can occur.
Military sources have dedicated about $300 million over the last two years to study traumatic brain injury.
The report is the latest of a series of studies commissioned by the Department of Veterans Affairs concerning the Gulf War and current conflicts beginning in 1991. The goal is to help the VA know what to prepare and look for in brain-injured veterans.
VA officials will take the next 60 days to decide whether long-term problems observed in returning vets should be treated as military-related brain injuries.
Paul Sullivan of the group, Veterans for Common Sense, tells the Los Angeles Times he hopes the VA and Department of Defense will follow through on the report.
“The agencies cannot deny there is a TBI crisis,” Sullivan said. “We can’t let this get swept under the rug.”
Earlier this year, a lawsuit that accused the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs of failing to take care of the mental health needs of returning troops, was dismissed by a federal judge in San Francisco.
The groups had been seeking a court order to improve the mental health care of troops from all around the country and to streamline the processing and delivery of benefits. The ruling follows a two-week trial last month.
The groups want to better address the high rate of suicide among veterans who commit between three and more than seven times more than the national average. #