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Vets Struggling for Brain Injury Care

SPECIAL NOTE: If you or a loved one suffered a brain injury while serving, please let NPR know about your experience by clicking here.

Sgt. Brandon Sanford, 28, a dog handler who survived two roadside blasts in Iraq. Sanford endured a year of balance problems and mental fog before Fort Bliss officials sent him for cognitive therapy. (NPR)

War can wound whether or not it tears off a soldier’s leg or arm or eyeball.  In Iraq and Afghanistan, explosions rattle U.S. troops to the bone, to the brain. 

We’ve heard a lot, at last, about PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder. But straight up brain injury is another trademark – and invisible – wound of these wars. 

NPR’s Daniel Zwerdling and Pro Publica’s T. Christian Miller set out to see how soldiers with those war wounds are being treated. 

They found many struggling. Undiagnosed. Ignored.  

This Hour, On Point: veterans, traumatic brain injury, and war now.


Daniel Zwerdling, national corresondent and investigative reporter for NPR. His recent pieces on this issue, with T. Christian Miller, are “Military Failing to Diagnose Brain Injuries” and “With Traumatic Brain Injuries, Soldiers Face Battle for Care.”

T. Christian Miller, reporter for ProPublica, the non-profit investigative news organization. Click here to see his work on this. He and Daniel Zwerdling worked together on the investigative pieces.

Jaime Zagami, a 24-year-old Boston-area resident who has been helping and advocating for her 26-year-old brother, Jonathan, a veteran who was diagnosed with PSTD and TBI. An Army Reserves combat engineer who served in Iraq for 14 months, from 2003 to 2004, Jonathan suffered three head injuries while in theater – two from blasts and one from a kick in the head. Read the Boston Globe story about Jaime and Jonathan.


You can see accompanying slideshows here and here that complement the articles. See a timeline tracking how the issue of brain injuries has been handled by the U.S. military and government. And watch the related NPR video:

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  • Michael

    “Vets Struggling for Brain Injury Care”

    Yet we still have people pushing for war, i had a guy (actually a few) that before going over were complaining how the Liberals wouldn’t let us win the war and how PTSD is a joke, Dude went over back in 2005-06 got injuries came back, complaining that the government needs to do more and PTSD is real. Than we had others who did have some Brain injuries never seek help cause it’s frown upon and they looked weak. Last night watching the game(luckily the lakers won)taking to a Ex Marine who said he did and does sp ops missions and only the tat’s on his arms can tell who he really is, he had a rod in is right arm calling himself the million dollar man and he was clearly suffering from something but i doubt he get help. Another buddy of mine went over seas to return to no house(wife sold it)no car or bike(she sold that too) and a quick temper towards violence, not to mention the cases of vets returning to being cops and going crazy on civilians.

    But this is the price for pushing war,and all those gun-hole people pushing for war need to think about and realize the aftermath and effects.

    I do hold little sympathy for ones in the military who push for war as the only way and than come back injured. I see it as Karma in a way.

    Wanna reduce Brain Injuries get us out of Afghanistan and Iraq and think twice about attacking Iran or starting another ill thought out war, otherwise this and PTSD and many other mental and physical problems

    Hell the cost of all the treatments,benefits and etc for vets coming home is only to rise at a astounding level, the military budget yearly is close to 700 Billion. Of course our politicans wanna give Vets everything they need/want yet unwilling to ask the public to pay for it.

  • joshua

    Violence in American streets is going to increase 1000 fold, not just cops beating and molesting innocent people–cops who see Americans as the enemy, but domestic abuse will rise exponentially, and is, and we will see a huge increase of violence on college campuses from returning vets who don’t like free-thinkers and explode on them, and on their neighbors who don’t think like them. America is already the most violent developed nation and is poised to get much much worse.

    Couple that with a failed economy and a failed government concerned only with riches and we are sitting on a powder keg. Don’t forget the 200,000 or so mercenary killers like Blackwater who will continue to fight wars until they die in innocent nations, or return to America to be corporate assassins, thugs, bodyguards, and domesticated private-armies waging war against Americans–dissenters, protesters, Blacks, minorities, poor people…If we did stop the wars which we have to do, what do we do with these brain damaged soldiers and murderous contract killers?

    The Romans exiled them from the inner cities–gave them villas and an isolated colony. We cant allow that, so, what…they need to be rehabilitated somehow and maybe just locked up where they cant hurt people.

    Now, having said all that, these men and women, suffering soldiers heart, need our help–it should be one of our number one priorities. if they are forgotten, if they are not educated, cared for, healed, assisted in job-searches, we will have the nightmare scenario above. We will anyways, but we have to lessen the impact.

    But private contractors should be locked up and sedated. We cant have monsters running loose in the streets.

  • cory

    This is why war is always supposed to be the last resort snd not a way of life. We don’t just rain ruin on our enemy, we ruin a generation of our own.

  • JP

    It is sad that we don’t take better care of our vets.

    Why does Obama continue the policies of making the US the worlds policeman? Another campaign promise broken.

  • jeffe

    JP as far as I’m concerned on this issue it’s Bush/Cheney II.

  • JP

    I guess this is what I have to look forward to when the new health care bill comes into effect! I wish we would have fixed our current broken public health care system before expanding it.

  • http://www.hope-connection.com Mike Ryan

    We see many TBI and BI (brain injured) client-patients at our hyperbaric oxygen center just outside of Boston. Hyperbaric oxygen is now provided on the front lines – chambers by Oxyheal are stationed at the front lines in Afghanistan and even Iraq. Hopefully, more people will understand that TBI, brain injury, PTSD, and concussions (which are in fact brain injuries)are all easily treated with HBOT (hyperbaric oxygen). HBOT is simple and safe for almost anyone – it’s simply oxygen delivered under pressure, which results in an over 800% increase in oxygen perfusion to the idling neurons surrounding the insult. If you know of anyone with a BI, direct them to HOPE-Connection.com, or have them call me at 978-290-3472 to learn more about HBOT.

  • les Wetmore

    As someone who was been againist the war from the start (i am sure there are plenty in this chat), I remember the dark times of the early bush years when it was dangerous to say anything “unpatriotic” in public. I was one of 7 people holding protest signs up in my little town as we started operation “shock and awe”. The rest of the town threw eggs and stuff at us. Calvin pissing and terrorist was a common sticker to have.

    At the time 90% of the country (or so the madia told us), was in support of going to war. It would be quick– in and out. News boardcasts showed our plan, how we would move in and strick, with their little map of iraq and the planed route in and out. It was like we were going to run a play in a football game. Boy they sold it to us good.

    Now we are reeping what we sowed. Sadly, I don’t think we have learned to much from the past 7? years. Logic and grounded thinking are not winning over reteric and hyperbole. The rise of the “new right” is calling for change from the ways of the “radical left” that have cause ALL our problems;;what? I don’t get why thinking that war is not a go idea (as a rule, not just cause that is the popular thing to think today) and believing that without sustanible practices the furture looks grim, is radical.

    This country needs to do some colective soul searching and figure out how to resolve so serious issue. Yelling, at each other is not going to do that. So I hope, for the sake of the poor young men and woman that are having their live distroyed, that we can become a more thoughtful group of people. Maybe that is too european and I should just more out of the country while I can. But I’m a patriot and I think we can do better.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    Piracetam/Nootropil and other drugs and supplements also increase oxygen to the brain and brain functioning and may be of help.

  • Yar

    We are not prepared as a nation to deal with this pandemic. Yes it is a pandemic, these soldier’s injuries is spilling over into families and communities.
    First step, is to give tax supported healthcare for life for all combat vets.
    Second, we must treat brain injury in the family unit. I would like to see inpatient units that have space for family members as well as the individual with the physical injury.
    Third the VA doesn’t have the resources to do this by themselves. They must allow treatment by qualified clinician’s and reimburse at the rate that it cost to provide care through VA facilities.

    We need partnerships with the states to build many new facilities to care for this expanding pandemic.
    Remember, there are more private contractors fighting this war than US soldiers, what about injuries among all fighters.

  • anne


    You wrote, “I do hold little sympathy for ones in the military who push for war as the only way and than come back injured. I see it as Karma in a way.”

    I am in awe at the karma you could be creating for yourself with such self-righteousness in your heart. I just hope you didn’t actually mean that.


  • John

    A local speech pathologist called our station (WNED in Buffalo) regarding this topic. Asked that you touch upon the subtleties in diagnosing this syndrome.

  • jerry bove

    Epidemiological evidence shows that traumatic head injuries can over time lead to increased risk for brain tumours. Has this been discussed in military circles? This would be an interesting group to watch over long term for this possible outcome. However, I doubt that if they are unable to get treatment for the immediate effects, that such treatment nor study would ever be conducted, and the military/vet hospitals are notorious for not sharing data with researchers.

  • Mari McAvenia

    Looks like the Military is taking the “Moe, Larry & Curly” approach to brain trauma. Whack ‘em harder with something bigger. “Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard…” – Hope somebody can see the dark humor in this analogy. My heart goes out to those who suffer with brain trauma, due to any cause. I’m one of ‘em, too.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I had some sort of brain damage from a decade of toxic exposures at work. Nobody credited my concerns at the time. The effects on memory and cognition were extreme, and I was sick enough (in all ways) that I kept as much to myself as possible. The brain, like the gut, was nobody’s business. I’m not sure I’m hearing real treatments talked about. It was a about 15 years before my brain reconstituted, pretty much, and that was with strenuous insistence upon it to “do” for me.
    Because use of words, vocabulary, is pretty deeply seated, one can seem normal. But “passing” is tough. One always wonders do I seem normal? Am I the same as I was before?

  • caraline

    I wonder how the bombs also affect civilians and how wide spead problem it is. Very sorry for soldiers who are hurt…I had tears listening to soldier during introduction. If we had a draft we wouldn’t have this problem.

  • Ren Knopf

    Until military docs get past their embedded “you’re faking” mentality, soldiers will not get the care they need. As bad as funding is – and it is bad, if they, the doctors, can’t ‘see it,’ the deck is heavily stacked against the GI. I speak from experience on this point. I’ve had my records altered. Surgeons had to deal with my fractured neck, but my concurrent L5-S1 subluxation -
    well, that became a degenerative issue and was my problem. Just follow the money because that is the only issue they care about.

  • Bill Liteplo

    Other than the helmet, what kind of face/mouth/head protective gear are being used by military personnel? Is there anything out there that would be useful to reduce the effects of experience a blast?

  • Suzanne

    I recently heard a presentation on the Combat Paper Project, which helps vets by using art therapy. The project hosts papermaking workshops for veterans where they use their uniforms to make paper. The process involves cutting up the uniform, beating it into pulp and turning it into paper. The presenter said they often use the paper to journal about their experiences — both abroad and since they returned home. The project is growing exponentially and receives high praise from people who participate. Here is a link with more information: http://www.combatpaper.org/

    I was impressed because I think it shows a creative way for “civilians” to get involved and help veterans after they return home.

  • Judith

    If the US put half its military budget into peacemaking around the world, and hired all these now-soldiers and trained them in reaching out to the world, there might still be terrorist attacks, but the support for them would fall fast.
    They might not end all civil wars or stop all genocides, but just as warfare pushes the creation of new technologies, so would peacemaking — and the technologies we create and make available would save rather than destroy.
    These GI’s would come home with peacemaking skills to use in our communities, with pride in the connections they built around the world, without the nightmares and injuries that come from killing and being targets.
    What would post peacemaking success syndrome look like?

  • Mari

    An appeal to the On-Point producers: Please feature some of the doctors, just mentioned, who are pioneering new and effective treatments for the brain injured. That would make an excellent and timely program. Thanks.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Sounds like a costly rehab Zwerdling is proposing, and I suggest that without a limb, you do need to rewire the body, but the brain CAN regenerate cells, and the object (to my experience) is to force those cells to come back, not wither for good. And I think the go-round, say for memory loss, is one thing get awfully good at mnemonics (learn A LOT about word etymology) and do an awful lot of note-taking. To write is to learn. The physical participation helps. But I don’t need a phalanx of doctors to tell me that.
    PTSD supposedly can be dealt with by something like hypnotism, focusing on a moving finger, while bearing in mind the trauma — I read.
    Brain go-arounds –

  • http://Fancypaints.net Tasha Cough

    How do other countries deal with their soldiers’ injuries? — we are not the only military and our health care sytems vary drastically for the general population, There must be great differences in the care of armed forces.

  • Ellen Dibble

    When my brain was pretty much dethroned from the toxins, I happened to be typing for a 70-year-old woman who (unbeknownst to either of us at the time) was coming down with Alzheimer’s. I feel certain that I could have “learned” Alzheimer’s from her. Her memory loss was contagious. Likewise, tracking with somebody who was NOT suffering from Alzheimer’s seemed to assist in strengthening the connections.

  • j.d. smith

    My Uncle, an army medical doctor, retired early in 2006. When I asked him why, he reported that he was doing so out of issues of conscience. He said that in spite of his constant protestations, he was seeing case after case where returning vets were not receiving the proper and neccessary physical and mental care for their various physical and psychlogical injuries sustained in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was close to retirement and decided that rather than be a part of this terrible problem, he would simply leave.

  • Ellen Dibble

    From my exposures to stories of vets with brain injuries, I learn that due to pain a lot of pain medication is prescribed, and because of everything else, a lot of anxiety medication is prescribed. Next thing you know, the person is addicted, and living from one rehab halfway house to another, probably dealing medications of various sorts. Cocaine and heroin are almost “good” enough. It’s so sad.

  • Ellen Dibble

    As long as we have armor to protect the actual life, and explosions as a big method used by the lurking type of enemy, we will have soldiers with this most incapacitating and most costly kind of injury. We need to learn diplomacy and cooperation, and keep our military out of danger.

  • Steve Grundman

    This is an important, compelling issue. But the quality of the reporting that’s being given full-play over this entire hour is not up to the standards of journalism in general and distinction of On Point in particular. You’re reporters have got the goods on the fact that there is a big problem here that’s not come to light. But the argument–I dare say “allegations”–that there is some kind of systematic effort on the part of the US military to downplay this problem–well, you’ve got no reporting to substantiate this. Where’s the context that I usually can count on NPR to provide–how many soldiers have been exposed to IED, what is the military doing, what’s the actual science on best-practices for diagnosing these injuries. For that matter, where’s the counterpoint voice in this discussion? Did the Army surgeon general refuse to partici8pate? I say again–and I’ve been a soldier–this is an important, grave issue. But I don’t like the quality of journalism that is animating this hour.

  • mary scott

    Please forward to daniel swerdling rather than posting. he can do more with it.
    PTSD in TBI is not biologically a separate illness. If you shake the part of the brain vulnerable to disruption it not only disrupts structural processing; it effects emotional processing – and its called PTSD. They are both disruptions of the same part of the brain and evoke both kinds of symptoms in the same person with the same stimulus. You can get PTSd without physical trauma when the stimulus to disruption is not physical. When the stimulus/trauma is physical the disrupted brain locale gives you both [physical/cognitive and emotional symptoms. You need to stop the either or thinking. Check Ursano’s work

  • http://wbur.org Judith Gondelman

    But when the soldiers get back home, how could the ‘powers that be’ deny them care by saying that it is not a real injury or not caused by the war. How is it that they passed the physical to be accepted into the armed forces if their problem was present before fighting? In addition, it is too bad if the government does not want to spend the money to treat these soldiers who could have died fighting for their country, if they (the powers that be) are willing to spend so much of our money to create wars than they need to deal with the consequences – which are only monetary for them, but life changing for the soldiers and their loved ones. And it has been said that anti-war citizens are not patriotic and don’t care about soldiers?????????

  • Ellen Dibble

    I don’t know about shaken brain in specific, but the brain-injured vet I know about was terribly scornful of the kinds of tests she was given for purposes of diagnosis. “I can tell a duck from a bus,” that sort of thing. If the military is coaching vets on test-taking, it may be partly because they too are scornful of the tests. I missed the last ten minutes of the show. But I just want to add that the memory might be fine at 10:00 a.m., and then at 2:00 the same day, for who knows what reason, it’s not. We all know that when the brain stops processing well about midnight, it’s time to sleep. With an injury, that signal comes more often. Again, my experience is from toxins, not shaken brain, but it seems to me quite possible that diagnosis is complicated by the fact someone could “pull themselves together” for a test, not exactly conscious they were doing so, and then decompensate or whatever it’s called. You mostly depend on seizing moments when the brain is functioning best to, say, balance the checkbook or interact with your loved ones.

  • Robert Fine

    The failure of societies and governments to recognize, support and provide healing to soldiers injured in war is nothing new. The existence of traumatic brain injury and of it being ignored, denied and uncared for is nothing new.

    In 1916 trough 1918 Franz Kafka campaigned publicly and through his position in the Prague Workmen’s Accident Insurance Institute for recognition and support of thousands of returning veterans suffering from injuries and disabilities of limb, trunk and brain. The latter termed as “neurasthenia, hysteria and epilepsy.”. Perhaps if we all truly understood the personal and long term societal cost and effects of war, perhaps if we all had to sacrifice and pay for these costs, perhaps we would work harder to find away to avoid war and to resolve the only seemingly irresolvable problems between governments, people and nations.

    To read Franz Kafka’s writings on the war injured see: Franz Kafka, The Office Writings; Princeton University Press, 2009, ISBN 978-0-691-12680-7.

  • Chris

    The Truth that few people want to look at: WAR DOES NOT WORK!!! It doesn’t; it just doesn’t. These injuries are happening to our enemies, too, AND to their citizens, including children, who happen to be in the vicinity of the explosions. War does not make people THINK differently; instead, it polarizes thinking; then MORE war happens. Then this and other injuries happen. Individuals are destroyed; families are destroyed; communities suffer. WAR does not work.

    The same is true for Poverty. POVERTY DOES NOT WORK!!! It doesn’t, it just doesn’t. It is happening to our enemies, too. Poverty does not help people, it polarizes people. Then TBI and PTSD happen to children growing up in the War Zones otherwise called America’s inner cities. Individuals are destroyed; families are destroyed; communities suffer. POVERTY does not work. Poverty is increased when Wars must be paid for. When the poor have no job opportunities except those in the military, they wind up in a War Zone, may wind up injured, and the tales heard during this program (and imaginable to ANYONE WITH AN IMAGINATION!!!) ensue, with even MORE suffering and the attendant Poverty!

    GREED DOES NOT WORK. Greed produces Poverty in others.

    The only things that WORK are music and the arts, and INTER-MARRIAGE between people from differing ethnic, religious, cultural, or class groups. The ONLY thing we should be “fighting” for is the RE-INSTATEMENT OF AN EMPATHETIC IMAGINATION IN ALL CITIZENS OF THE WORLD! We should DO that “fighting” thru reading, listening, making music together, helping those in need, protecting our environment(s). The most important thing in retrieving our IMAGINATION is that we do NOT confuse the process of finding it or Imagination itself with what the Main Stream Media and Advertisers and Marketers are selling us.


    “It is only the dead who have seen the end of war”.

  • Carroll Owens

    Like it or not, our entire world, our experiences our perceptions, everything we have or will become is the result of millions of related events. TBI did not emerge from nothingness in Iraq. It was probably fairly limited before the invention of gunpowder but the wars that have taken place just within the lifespan of the oldest human now alive have produced staggering numbers. Shell shock, battle fatigue, PTSD, each could be connected to TBI. And, as mentioned above, what about combatants (and civilians)of the countries effected? While I have little sympathy for the guilty parties of 911, try to imagine what kind of treatment the people in Afghanistan receive for TBI.

    The folks of the “Greatest Generation”, Korea and Vietnam are becoming less of a TBI problem day by day. Years from now, way beyond my lifetime, there will be no more TBI. The human race will have been eliminated or enlightened. I know where I would place my bet and where I would place my hope. They are not the same.

    (It is dark and rainy and I am depressed but not suicidal. When the sun comes out tomorrow I’ll be fine.)

  • Doug Plavin

    The vast majority of men and women who sign up to serve in our armed forces are highly motivated and capable individuals who pride themselves on their skills and abilities. They see themselves as empowered, not as victims. I believe anyone with that kind of personality who sustains a TBI or MTBI would do everything within their power to improve their situation; it’s in their nature. To deliberately do nothing and simply throw themselves on the mercy of a bungling VA by faking or malingering symptoms is absolutely ridiculous!

    The DOD and the VA must get up to speed on this critical issue that will no doubt have a massive impact on all of society for decades to come. It’s heartening to hear all the comments that recognize TBI’s impact on not just the soldiers, but all of us. Spread the word!


    I am just wondering how COME the American people never REALLY MARCH ON THE streets of Washington DC to protest the Benefits of American soldierS in active service and the retired?

    The American people should have learned from the passed 3 major wars. WW2,Korean War and the Vietnman war.

    Are you satisfied with the American government in how they treated American soldiers?

  • Charlotte

    Unfortunately, the military is chock full of careerists all too willing to sell out their comrades rather than to speak up for them. Any so-called licensed physician who denies that shockwaves can cause harm to the human brain has never heard of extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy to treat kidney stones and gallstones. A shockwave is deliberately generated and focussed to hit a kidney stone or gallstone in the patient’s body to pulverize it without having to cut the patient open. The first devices were deveoped by Dornier engineers (of German aircraft fame) after they noticed how shockwaves could really mess up some gauges in a cockpit.

    So, the reasons for denying that a real problem exists have nothing to due with medicine. This is yet another case of Defense Department timeservers who would be serving time if there were any justice.

    And this is the stellar American way of life you’re so anxious to export to the rest of the world? No wonder they’re shooting back at us…

  • http://www.filipinoboston.blogspot.com AKILEZ

    I always supported the American soldiers on my blog. I can’t always protest on the streets of America just like what I did in the 80s in Manila.
    For I already exhausted my ability to protest with guilt and frustration to fight for freedom and to protect the oppressed. I had seen alot of pain and suffering in my life. But that exhaustion is not stopping me and I will still voice my support to the American soldier via blogging.

    I always cared for those people that are fighting for a better world to free us from terror and to keep terror away from us.

  • david

    Our training as EMT’s included trauma’s caused by the shock wave of an explosion. There is enough force from an explosion to cause both head and inner body injuries.
    I feel deeply for these brave men and women who have risk their lifes and many who have suffered life long injuries. I am ashamed of the response that the VA is giving to them. They should have all of their needs taken care of.
    The thought that “long term cost of treatment” was a factor in their treatment is disturbing.
    The VA is a government run health system. We should take note of this, Americans will now have the same government running the nation’s public health system.
    If the VA is a model of what is to come, maybe the US public will now understand what these Veterans are having to go through.

  • John

    I’m a former registered nurse (29 yrs.) and spent 9 yrs. in rehabilitation nursing.

    In combined TBI & PTSD the TBI will inhibit the ability to engage in cognitive therapies for the PTSD. This is a much bigger problem than the public, the media and much of the medical community realize.

    The callers pointing out the long term family and community impact are correct. You need to come back to this subject again and again for people to begin to understand. Many Nam Vets who are standing on the corner with a sign may actually be suffering from TBI/PTSD. This war is creating a much larger cohort of these disabled Vets.

    John Hawksley

  • Will

    Great show today.

  • http://www.globalresonancenow.com Guy Avenell

    There are several energy therapies to treat PTSD, Military Sexual Trauma (MST), and some help with TBI.
    There are PTSD support groups on Facebook.
    I do long distance Reiki/Quantum Touch for PTSD.
    Here is a technique they can do for themselves.
    I am a retired USAF MSgt. Contact me via Facebook.

  • http://www.globalresonancenow.com Guy Avenell

    Here is my article on the Back Yard Minefield.

    If you would like to start you own local center, let me know.

  • Alan Stoga

    PTSD and TBI are two of the “gifts” that will keep on giving from these wars–and that society is only beginning to recognize. Thank God, civil society organizations have taken the lead in seeking innovative solutions, since government and the military are (as usual) slow movers. One of the best is Puppies Behind Bars, which trains service dogs to work with vets who are suffering mental or physical trauma from our Middle East wars. Puppies has already placed 23 trained dogs with vets, and more on the way. Check out puppiesbehindbars.com

    Regardless of what you think about those conflicts, we owe it to the veterans to give them the tools to cope with their wounds.

  • http://www.carolinanadel.com Carolina

    I wrote and illustrated a children’s book to help children understand the post traumatic stress disorder of their parents returning from the war. The entire book is on line on my website: http://www.carolinanadel.com/PTSD
    If anyone has the name of a contact person for a group that may be interested in purchasing copies of this book to distribute to families, please contact me.
    Carolina Nadel

  • Steve Lijek

    I searched through the comments and I did not see this topic mentioned. There is an MD named Dr Amen who says that ANY shock to the head can cause brain damage. He runs a clinic on the west coast and is a professor at UC Irvine I think. He does functional brain scans using a radioactive tracer in the blood that allows for a 3-D “topography” of the brain to be recorded while the subject is doing various standardized tasks. A soldier entering the service could be scanned, the cost is less than MRI I believe;this would be the persons “baseline” scan which can be compared to a scan after an injury is sustained. This procedure might potentially be used to provide evidence of a soldier’s traumatic brain injury. Dr Amen may do this free of charge as a research project to prove-out his theories and techniques. Please send this to the parties involved. Thanks and thanks for your excellent program.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I mentioned way above a therapy for PTSD that is like hypnosis and now I have found the name for it: EMDR. Eye movement Desensitization Reprocessing. It piggybacks on the knowledge of how the brain stores traumatic memories and it reprograms that somehow. Google your town and PTSD and EMDR and you may find someone near you. I quote one site:
    “Patients who have suffered for years from anxiety or distressing memories, nightmares, insomnia, abuse or other traumatic events can now gain relief from a revolutionary new therapy called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing).
    “Research shows that EMDR is rapid, safe and effective. EMDR does not involve the use of drugs or hypnosis. It is a simple, non-invasive patient-therapist collaboration in which healing can happen effectively.
    “This powerful short-term therapy is highly effective for a wide range of disorders including chronic pain, phobias, depression, panic attacks, eating disorders and poor self-image, stress, worry, stage fright, performance anxiety, recovery from sexual abuse and traumatic incidents.
    “Many patients who have made slow progress in the past, or who have not benefited from more traditional therapies say that with EMDR they have finally found something that works for them!
    “Dr. … is a EMDRIA Certified EMDR Therapist and a EMDRIA Approved EMDR Consultant. Find out what kind of experience and training this requires.
    “EMDR-Therapy: help for PTSD, rape recovery, psychological abuse or neglect, abandonment experiences, marital betrayals, difficult divorces, excessive anger.
    “EMDR-Therapy: help for depression, anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, agoraphobia, stress management, personal & spiritual growth
    “EMDR-Therapy: Adult Survivors of Child Abuse & Trauma Recovery: for adults emotionally, physically or sexually abused as children.
    “PTSD – Post-traumatic stress disorder.”

    Note: someone above stated those with brain injury cannot benefit from cognitive-based PTSD treatment. This, however, is not cognitive-based, it seems to me.

  • dave wachter

    Did You get a an email from someone who is from DC high schools, Vietnam and a bicycle messenger who got a job at the VA a month before the war in Iraq began?
    If not
    Anyway, I did that for two and a half years, got relieved of it with zip preperation or follow up with what I had been doing. So I left the VA and went to the Rehab Servcices Admin. at ED, thus my other email, david.wachter@ed.gov.
    So I have two observations to make:
    1. Because so many are claiming PTSD and TBI, the VA has begun to reclassify both diagnoses so A wll be 80%, B. wil bee 60%, etc. etc. This brings me to the point of my email, which is to ask you what your thoughts are of Daniel Shay’s “Achilles in Vietnam”. If you interpert that book, the best ever written about Achilles, you will learn, that PTSD is a “two hit” responce to a traumatic event, the first hit being the event and the second hit being the “official response” to the event.
    As I like to put in “lay terms”, a woman getting raped is a traumatic event, a woman being told it was her fault that it happend; lights the fuse that turns the TBI into a dual diagnosis.
    You are on the right road, keep going and Read both of Danial Shay’s books,if you have not already done so.
    Take Care,
    Dave Wachter, Takoma Park Maryland

  • Alan DeFend

    This is another hatchet job from NPR. As a previous writer noted, where’s the context? Why wasn’t there someone (other than a couple brief, taped comments) from the military medical establishment on the program to say what the military IS doing. Your entire program was focused on the unfortunate experiences of a handful of servicemembers. How many others have received treatment that has helped them and for which they are extremely satisfied? Not one (even token) interviewee to say that he’s been helped and the military is doing a good job. You took a position and sought to support it. Period.

  • James McMillin

    Our son was inducted into the U.S. Navy at age 19, went through basic training and was assigned to the carrier U.S.S. Enterprise. At age 20, he was having drug issues and informed us that he had tried to commit suicide so the Navy put him in treatment for ONE WEEK. He was evaluated, found to be “a danger to himself and others”; SENT BACK ON DUTY after ONE WEEK of treatment with the message that he probably would be discharged from the Navy.

    Within another two weeks, he was found choking in a parking lot by his car and DEAD ON ARRIVAL at the Norfolk, Va. hospital. A virtual suicide by a drug overdose and who knows what else, because the military will give only information they want to give the family. Our son was destroyed by the U.S. Navy’s refusal to honor his commitment to the military in it’s plan to discharge him rather than give him the treatment he deserved when he needed them.

    THIS is how the U.S. Navy services too many of those who commit to giving their life to defend our country. Not only are those diagnosed with PTSD, etc. given little or no effective treatment, but those others, suffering from similar mental issues are summarily dismissed as ‘unfit’. INSTEAD of providing the best medical and psychiatric care to make the best soldiers, our military and our Congress continues to ENCOURAGE AND SUPPORT corporations and ‘jobs’ making the best killing machines in the world.

    War is a for profit – forget the individual soldier’s needs – endeavor. Anyone who doubts it need only look at the corporate benefits given to their state for making sure military contractors stay in business and in their towns, creating jobs based on killing machines.

  • Onni

    Many years ago, my mother suffered traumatic brain injury from an automobile accident. Life ever afterward was an awful trial for her and her family. TBI affects not only the injured one but his or her family for the rest of their lives.

  • Ellen Dibble

    All during the health insurance national debates we kept hearing that government could do health care well, that the care provided by the VA was an example of this. I believe it’s called TRICARE now. I didn’t hear the refuted, so compared with find-your-own-care, it seems to fly; it’s acceptable. You don’t pay $1,000 a month only to be dumped as undesirable because you contracted cancer. That sort of thing.
    I believe the issue with brain injury is related to the fact it is so long-lasting, if not permanent. Methods of treatment seem to be evolving, so a forum for airing that seems an excellent idea. I keep hearing that because body armor is so improved, many more soldiers survive. The flip side of that is many more survive gravely injured. The injury from bomb blasts — to the lungs, to the brain — is not the same as the injury from a gunshot to the belly, but surgeons cannot fix TBI. I don’t think the VA is alone in having no good, easily accessible strategy.

  • Mark in Idaho

    Although there are many returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with blast concussions, the problem is not just with these returning soldiers. The non-military people who get concussions from football and other sports, car collisions, etc. have just as much struggle getting proper diagnosis and treatment. The medical community has long held beliefs that only concussions resulting in Loss of Consciousness (LOC) and post traumatic amnesia are true concussions needing treatment.
    The Post Concussion Syndrome community is huge. We know the struggle these soldiers have. Many of us live with the same struggles.
    Maybe the blast concussions will awaken the medical community to the reality of concussions. But, I doubt it. They are already trying to differentiate blast concussions from the non-blast concussions. Another try to deny diagnosis and care to the many with Post Concussion Syndrome.

  • Klay Magyar

    I have worked for the Federal government for 29 years in various agencies. I have witnessed many discriminatory acts against injured workers, most of which were injured on the job. Currently the United States Postal Service (USPS) is harassing postal workers that have restrictions placed on their physical abilities by their physicians. The harassment includes management telling injured workers that there is no work available for them, and sending them fifty or more miles to another Postal facility, even though there has been work available for them for years. This act is part of the norm that all goverment agencies follow. I believe that the harassment technique stems from the military mindset. What a shame that those who serve our country are kicked when they are down.

  • AJ

    Ellen Dibble,

    RE: your comment, above, 10:24 on June 17.

    You say: “One always wonders do I seem normal? Am I the same as I was before?”

    I have noticed your comments on many topics for perhaps a year now. I do NOT know what you were like before, but I do know that NOW you always submit thoughtful, insightful, articulate comments, many of which often get me to thinking from a different perspective! Normal? I’d say you might be brilliant!!

    Thanks for all your contributions to this site!

  • one guy

    Interesting topic for Vets and non-vets alike. TBI has depression-like symptoms among other things. Asking for help is still viewed as weakness. Outdated thinking by a few make many believe that there are super-men and women out there who have no issues and we talk ourselves into hiding our struggles instead of asking for help, getting it and moving fwd.
    Every time we pressure a child, a co-worker, a stranger, to not go through pain but to ignore and hide it, we stop their growth.
    For many of us it happened before we knew it was happening.
    Be your brothers’ keeper. Allow yourself to be imperfect and then turn it outward.

  • Jorge Arenivar

    I guess 30 years of civilian studies on the brain are not enough to convince top Army brass about the severity of brain injuries. During a hearing about how the services are dealing with brain injuries and mental health problems, Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “The reality is, the study of the brain is an emerging science, and there still is much to be learned.” “Our science on the brain is just not as great as it is on other parts of the body,” Chiarelli continued, noting vast medical opinions about diagnosing and treating the disorders. “It’s not this well-developed science like you find with heart surgery.”

Sep 1, 2014
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