DoD recognizes the toll TBI injuries take on the families of servicemembers. The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center released the TBI Family Caregiver Curriculum in April. This guide offers servicemembers who sustain moderate or severe brain injury and their caregivers comprehensive health information and tools for coping with the challenges they face. It includes skill-development tools for self-management and for communicating with health care providers and other team members involved in the care, treatment and rehabilitation of the servicemembers or veterans who sustain a moderate or severe brain injury.
The work of the DoD continues as the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury works with the military to raise awareness about concussion. Too often, servicemembers overlook the medical consequences of mild TBI because of loyalties to their mission or fear of appearing weak, or because it’s just a concussion.
Since 2000, TBI has been diagnosed in about 188,270 service members with the majority of those cases – 144,453 – involving mild injuries in which symptoms often resolve within hours to days and almost always improve over one to three months. DoD has learned that active duty and reserve servicemembers are at an increased risk for sustaining a TBI compared to their civilian peers. In general, young men between the ages of 18 to 24 are at greatest risk for TBI and many operational and training activities which are routine in the military are potentially dangerous.
Servicemembers deployed in theater also are exposed to a unique set of dangers, ranging from blast exposure from improvised explosive devices to suicide bombers. Early detection of injury is the cornerstone of TBI treatment and recovery. As a result, the DoD is aggressively working to improve the diagnosis and treatment of TBI in theater.
In June, the DoD issued a new set of guidelines for the care of TBI in theater to ensure earlier intervention into the treatment of concussions leads to better recovery. The policy stems from growing concerns that troops that sustain mild TBI in combat might go undetected. Research has shown that if servicemembers returned to combat before the brain heals, a second concussion could cause more significant damage.
The new requirement states that everyone involved in an incident that may have caused mild TBI or concussion must undergo mandatory screenings by a medic or corpsman. The revised guidelines also require anyone with three mild TBIs within 12 months go through a comprehensive assessment.
The DoD has made significant advancements in the management of TBI over the past several years; however, it continues to invest in research to improve the diagnosis and treatment of TBI among servicemembers. Our servicemembers, veterans and families deserve nothing less than the best we have to offer.
Katherine Helmick is the senior executive director for TBI with the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.