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Brain Injuries: The Invisible Wounds of Battle

old-63622_640.jpgMilitary members may have been exposed to blasts during combat operations or training exercises that can cause traumatic brain injuries. When a traumatic brain injury is service-related, veterans are entitled to receive treatment and benefits for their injury. Since 2000, more than 380,000 brain injuries have been recorded by the US military. The US military treats more brain injuries than chest or abdominal wounds. 

Causes of TBI Among Veterans

Soldiers can suffer traumatic brain injuries caused by the explosion of improvised explosive devices (IED's), the impact of artillery rounds, and nearby grenade explosions. Even while wearing helmets, the concussive effects of nearby explosions can rattle and jar the cranium.

Similarly, veterans can suffer brain injuries caused by their own weapon systems. These include shoulder-fired anti-tank weapons. These "LAW" missiles and AT4 delivery systems can cause overpressure of the brain. This causes intense pressure to build up on the cerebrum which can cause permanent damage to the brain. Many soldiers who operated these weapons systems suffered multiple, successive injuries that led to significant cumulative damage. 

Poor Detection and Treatment

Prior to 2009, US military physicians were not focused on non-penetrating head injuries. They rarely treated injuries that did not involve bleeding or skull penetration. Detection and treatment of concussive injuries caused by blast waves were minimal and most physicians confused brain injury symptoms with those of post-traumatic stress disorder. As a result, many veterans suffered traumatic brain injuries that were not properly diagnosed or treated.

Revised Rules Increase Benefit Eligibility

The VA has revised rules to recognize five illnesses as presumed results of service-connected traumatic brain injuries. These include Parkinson's disease diagnosed following moderate or severe injury and seizures that develop even when no known cause is established following either a moderate or severe injury. It also covers dementia if it is diagnosed within 15 years following the injury. 

The new rules also allow veterans who develop depression within three years of a moderate or severe brain injury, or within one year of a mild injury to qualify for benefits. The rules also grant benefits to individuals who develop a hormone deficiency within 12 months of a diagnosed moderate or severe brain injury. To determine the severity of the injury, the VA uses MRI's, PET, and other scans. Records are also reviewed to establish other factors that confirm or allude to the presence of a TBI. 

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