Combat Veterans’ Brain Injuries: Hard to Diagnose, Harder to Treat

Wade Coye, Esq.

Wade Coye, Personal Injury and Car Accident Attorney

According to a recent survey, 244,719 troops were diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) between 2009 and 2012. 72,529 of these diagnoses occurred after 2009. With such a high number of cases, many Americans expect that research is being performed to prevent, detect, or treat these injuries, but the truth of the matter is TBIs are some of the most complex injuries to deal with. In fact, 22% of all combat casualties are related to Traumatic Brain Injuries.

There are three levels of Traumatic Brain injuries: mild, moderate, and severe. A mild TBI is defined by a loss or alteration of consciousness for a time period less than 30 minutes or post-traumatic amnesia lasting less than 24 hours. Focal neurologic deficits and/or a Glasgow Coma Score (GCS) of 13-15 would also indicate a mild TBI. Moderate TBIs are signified by a loss of consciousness greater than 30 minutes, post-traumatic amnesia lasting longer than 24 hours, and an initial GCS of 9-12. A severe TBI is categorized by all of the symptoms above and a GCS score less than 9.

At least 45% of veterans currently coming home from Iraq/Afghanistan are in the process of applying for or are already receiving Veterans Disability Benefits. This number is double the number of veterans who were eligible following the Gulf War. The reason for this dramatic increase is new injuries. 20 percent of all active duty troops suffer from repeated concussions. One third of that number has semi-permanent symptoms as a result.

For whatever reason, veterans and athletes alike, have longer lasting symptoms than civilians who have the same injury. 85 to 90 percent of civilians with a mild TBI will return to normal after three to six months. The other 10 percent experience lasting somatic (headache, tinnitus, insomnia, etc.), cognitive (memory, attention, concentration difficulties, etc.), or emotional/behavioral (irritability, depression, anxiety, etc.) symptoms. A veteran or athlete could see symptoms last months longer than a civilian, usually 18 to 24 months. Generally, this difference is due to the fact that a veteran’s mild TBI is usually accompanied by several other medial problems.

If symptoms progress past the normal time periods, several neurological disorders can develop:

▪       Epilepsy

▪       Paralysis

▪       Tremors

▪       Headaches and migraines

▪       Memory loss or impairment

You may be wondering why a veteran has such a dramatically longer recovery time. The answer is simple: in many cases symptoms are ignored at the time of injury due to the stressful situation within which it occurs. Because of this, the injury itself is hard to pinpoint, making even more difficult to distinguish between symptoms. Like I said earlier, veterans are usually dealing with several medical conditions at once. Several TBI symptoms overlap with those of other psychiatric and neurological disorders.

Treatment for a TBI has to be symptom focused, but if you can’t distinguish between what symptoms are caused by which condition, how are you supposed to treat? That is exactly what the government was supposedly working on for the past few years. After putting $18.1 million into a resource that was supposed help diagnose TBIs, the software has fallen short. This software was supposed to help determine the impact of blast injuries when there was no visible head wound. It was also supposed to help differentiate between symptoms relating to a TBI and other medical conditions. Instead, the software seems to be a clinical documentation tool with no interfacing to other programs and a confusing self-assessment for veterans to take. It is disappointing that we haven’t progressed farther in the diagnosis and treatment of TBIs.

With all of the new types of injuries comes a greater influx of disability claims to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Currently, it takes nearly 8 months to process a single claim, even longer if you have to go through an appeals process. You may need an attorney to help keep your claim on track. If you or a loved one was injured in combat and has a resulting disability, contact the Coye Law Firm to discuss your case.

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