Today we honor the 2,402 military personnel and civilians killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor 76 years ago, which launched the U.S. into World War II. As we honor their courage, we are reminded of the sacrifices made by our veterans and active-duty service members to defend the freedom and values Americans hold dear. While some return with very visible reminders of their sacrifices, others return with less apparent wounds, such as Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs).
Beasley Allen has previously described a TBI as a “blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the function of the brain.” It has become the signature injury of the of the more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center notes that 361,092 military-related TBIs, or mTBIs, have been reported since 2000. However, the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) explains that “[t]he first large-scale evidence of military-related mTBI occurred in World War I… in association with the frequent use of high explosives in trench warfare.”
In the more than seven decades following Pearl Harbor, the military has invested significant resources in researching mTBIs, including how to quickly diagnose and treat the injuries. These injuries can have long-lasting effects on service members, which has raised concerns among military leaders regarding the health and safety of individual service members, the level of unit readiness, and troop retention.
Most recently, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) contracted with Neural Analytics, Inc. to develop the Lucid System, a device “designed to measure and monitor physical signs of TBI,” according to Army Times. With a half hour of training, ideally, the device and software will give troops the capability to more effectively diagnose mTBIs and their severity and take swift action to save more lives on the battlefield. The estimated completion date is within 18 months, or by March 2019.
While there is no effective treatment or intervention for TBIs, the NCBI reports that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) may be promising. While the therapy remains an experimental treatment for TBI, it has shown beneficial results in stroke patients and varying results in people suffering PTSD and TBIs.
Last week, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David Shulkin announced that the VA will begin offering HBOT to a limited number of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – even though the treatment is still considered off-label for treating the condition, according to Task and Purpose. The military will monitor the results to determine the treatment’s effectiveness in patients with PTSD.
The step could open the treatment up in the future to those suffering from mTBI since researchers have found evidence linking the two conditions. One study of active-duty Marines reported by JAMA Psychiatry found that “[e]ven when accounting for predeployment symptoms, prior TBI, and combat intensity, TBI during the most recent deployment is the strongest predictor of postdeployment PTSD symptoms.”
With new technology and more awareness about the less visual wounds of war, veterans and active-duty service members may have more opportunities to address injuries that resulted in conditions such as mTBIs. Yet, more can and must be done to better protect those who sacrifice so much for our freedom.
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Mike Andrews, a lawyer in our firm’s Personal Injury & Products Liability Section, handles cases involving traumatic brain injuries. You can contact him at 800-898-2034 or Mike.Andrews@beasleyallen.com.
Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center
National Center for Biotechnology Information
Task and Purpose