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Traumatic brain injury is a substantial health concern in the military population. In 2013 alone, over 26,000 DOD service members worldwide were diagnosed with TBI. Often silent and insidious, traumatic brain injury is said to be one of the "signature" wounds of war.
Traumatic brain injury is defined as any disruption in brain function, even momentarily, caused by a blow or jolt to the head. Not all blows to the head result in a TBI. Traumatic brain injuries classified as mild, moderate, or severe. A mild TBI is also commonly known as a concussion. Over 85 percent of TBIs are classified as mild; these are easily treatable and most heal without major complications. Most Soldiers recover and are back to full duty within seven to 10 days. More severe cases of TBI have greater complications, and can even be fatal in some cases.
TBI not only affects the individual service member and Family, but also subsequently affects unit readiness and troop retention. Military active and reserve members are at a higher risk for sustaining a TBI compared to their civilian counterparts. This is due to many factors; however young men between ages 18-24 are at the greatest risk for sustaining a TBI.
Military operations and combat training activities, as well as blast exposures during the deployment environment pose a significant increased risk for sustaining a TBI. The training environment at Fort Benning, airborne operations and combatives training, increase the likelihood of incidence of traumatic brain injury Contrary to popular belief, 80 percent of all TBIs actually happen while in garrison.
These injuries are sustained during normal lifestyle activities. Injury commonly occurs as a result of motor vehicle accidents, contact sports such as football, and from falls.
However, in the deployed setting, blast exposures account for the majority of traumatic brain injury events.
Common symptoms experienced by those whom have suffered a TBI include headaches, memory lapses, dizziness, trouble concentration, communication deficits, attention deficits, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, ringing of the ears, irritability and anxiety.
"After experiencing a TBI, individuals may have difficulty with communication and social skills - both personally and professionally; that is because conversation is a complex cognitive skill," said Erika Buckley. "Most people don't realize just how complex it truly is - until there is a problem."
Symptoms of TBI often overlap and co-exist with other conditions, especially behavioral health disorders and chronic pain issues. It takes specialized training and an integrative team approach to accurately diagnose and treat those whom have suffered a traumatic brain injury event.
"The challenge for clinicians is dealing with the small subset of TBI patients who have persistent symptoms who continue on with post concussive syndrome ... and differentiating the neurological or psychological factors that are contributing to the patient's unrelenting symptoms," said Dr. Peter Szostak, a neurologist at Fort Benning's TBI Clinic.
Multiple TBI events, especially in a short time frame, complicate recovery as well. Treatment can be perplexing, so it is important that specialized care is sought to provide comprehensive care management.
The MACH Traumatic Brain Injury clinic is equipped to provide comprehensive care for mild and moderate TBIs. Patients needing a higher level of care are referred to surrounding facilities for further management. The MACH TBI clinic sees active duty service members only. Early intervention is key in better recovery outcomes for traumatic brain injury. Service members should visit with their primary care managers for potential consults to the TBI specialty clinic.
Specialty services offered include clinicians within Primary Care, Neuropsychology, Neurology, Speech Language Pathology, Occupational Therapy, as well as Psychiatry. Trained nurse case managers provide comprehensive oversight of all clinic patients, and ensuring seamless quality care.
Training on traumatic brain injury is given to all new first sergeants and commanders during their pre-command training here. This training helps to spread awareness and increase support of Soldiers involved in TBI events. All medical personnel also receive detailed training on recognizing and initial treatment of TBI to ensure prompt treatment for better patient outcomes. Education is the best intervention in treating and decreasing TBI injuries.
Fort Benning's TBI Clinic is having an open house Friday from 1-3 p.m. Feel free to stop by and learn about services offered. We are located on the second floor, in Building 9214 near the helipad at the Main Hospital.