Veterans Should Participate In Studies To Better Understand TBI

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Many of the service members who experience traumatic brain injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan are at risk for long-term health problems such as depression and dementia, but it is unknown how high those risks are, according to an Institute of Medicine report released Thursday, the AP/Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports (Neergaard, AP/Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 12/5).

An estimated 5,500 military personnel have suffered from a brain injury, and brain injuries account for about 22% of all casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan (Carey, New York Times, 12/5). For the IOM report, researchers examined past studies on TBI and found that it can be linked to long-term health risks such as depression, Alzheimer's-like dementia, Parkinson's-like symptoms, seizures, aggressive behavior, dizziness, amnesia and problems with social functioning (AP/Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 12/5).

The report recommended that the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs conduct further studies "to confirm reports of long-term or latent effects of exposure to blasts" to better understand and treat TBI (New York Times, 12/5). The report suggested that the departments conduct cognitive skills tests on both pre- and post-deployment soldiers to compare the long-term effects of brain injuries.

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In addition, every soldier exposed to a blast, regardless of its size, should be screened for TBI, the report recommended. IOM also recommended that VA establish a registry of service members with TBI to identify long-term risk factors that improve or worsen outcomes and compare them to troops with non-brain injuries (AP/Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 12/5).

Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, director of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, said there was "no daylight between the recommendations and actions the Department of Defense has taken already" to better evaluate brain injuries (New York Times, 12/5). VA is considering the recommendations and has 60 days to decide whether the long-term health risks will be a presumed link to the military service of veterans who experienced brain injuries.

Lead author George Rutherford of the University of California-San Francisco said, "I don't think we really knew how big a hole in scientific knowledge there is about blast-induced brain injuries" (AP/Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 12/5).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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