Today, the New York Times continues what must be at least a two year series of reports on one of the hidden tragedies of the Iraq war- the growing tide of combat veterans who come home with traumatic brain injuries. This piece tracks the unfortunate story of Sgt. Kevin Owsley who suffered two concussive events in Iraq. Once, a roadside bomb exploded right next to his Humvee, and another time a rocket-propelled grenade flung him across a road on which he was walking. After each attack, Sgt. Owsley toughed it out and ignored his headaches, dizzy spells, and constant ringing in the ears. He figured that since he never lost consciousness, his problems would eventually go away.
The signature injury of this war is debunking the myth that permanent brain damage does not occur unless the victim suffers a direct blow to the head and loss of consciousness. In Sgt. Owsley’s case, he continues to suffer significant symptoms more than three years after coming home. He struggles to unscramble his thougts, suffers memory problems, gets lost on the road, even with directions, relies on lists to remember appointments, but still forgets a few, experiences nightmares, cannot tolerate sunlight on his eyes, and wears a hearing aid.
The New York Times series has helped advance recognition by medical professionals that even mild traumatic brain injuries or concussions can cause permanent brain damage resulting in a constellation of symptoms, including cognitive problems, mood disorders, memory loss, dizziness, hearing problems, and light sensitivity.
The Times and the Washington Post are directly responsible for exposing the substandard care provided by the Veterans Affairs Department to brain damaged vets. Another issue tackled by the Times is the scandalous attempts by the Administration and the VA to deny disability benefits to combat vets suffering from brain damage or post traumatic stress disorder.
One way to honor our brave troops is to fight for one of the important freedoms they protect- freedom of the press. If the powers that be had their way, the media would be controlled by a limited number of like-minded people and there would be no criticism of the way our government treats our combat vets.