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Michael Phelan
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Blast-Induced Brain Damage Posing Long-Term Nightmare for Vets

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Major news outlets have reported for the past couple of years that traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the signature injury of the Iraq war. In a long awaited government report, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) estimates that 22% of wounded troops have suffered brain damage, and calls on the military to take major steps to better evaluate returning veterans for traumatic brain injury. Blast concussions from improvised explosive devices cause pressure waves in the brain that can result in mild to severe brain damage, further proof that brain damage can result from shaking the brain without skull damage or loss of consciousness.

In its report released Thursday, the IOM urged the Veterans Affairs Department to conduct long-term studies to better understand the risks of long-term problems faced by our soldiers including depression and Alzheimer’s-like dementia. The research committee responsible for this government advisory report started by reviewing the existing brain injury medical literature and concluding the following:

* Moderate to severe TBI is linked with risks of later Alzheimer’s-like dementia, Parkinson’s-like symptoms, seizures, problems with social functioning, and unemployment

* Even mild TBI is linked to depression, aggressive behavior, and post-concussive symptoms like dizziness and amnesia.

* If mild TBI causes loss of consciousness, a risk of later memory, movement, and seizure problems cannot be ruled out.

Importantly, the report recommends that every soldier get a pre-and post-deployment brain-function test. This is key because it provides brain injury experts with a baseline neuropsychologic function to compare to the post-deployment function. The report also recommends thta every soldier exposed to a blast be screened for TBI. Finally, the report urges the Defense Department to conduct rigorous studies and establish a VA-run registry of TBI patients to track long-term symptoms.

The VA is "considering" these recommendations. Let’s hope they do the right thing for our vets.