ProPublica‘s T. Christian Miller and NPR‘s Daniel Zwerdling have found unpublished military documents which indicate that tens of thousands of soliders who suffer from mild traumatic brain injury have gone undiagnosed.
These are in addition to the 115,000 soldiers known to suffer from such injuries, many of which are inflicted by shock waves caused by roadside bombs. They write that the lack of concern shown by top brass for mild traumatic brain injuries was “a reflection of ambivalence about these wounds at the highest levels.”
“It’s obvious that we are significantly underestimating and underreporting the true burden of traumatic brain injury,” said Maj. Remington Nevin, an Army epidemiologist who served in Afghanistan and has worked to improve documentation of TBIs and other brain injuries. “This is an issue which is causing real harm. And the senior levels of leadership that should be responsible for this issue either don’t care, can’t understand the problem due to lack of experience, or are so disengaged that they haven’t fixed it.”
After a thorough review, one not helped by a top medical official’s early attempts to prevent local medical commanders from responding to the reporters, the duo distilled their findings into three bullet points:
- From the battlefield to the home front, the military’s doctors and screening systems routinely miss brain trauma in soldiers. One of its tests fails to catch as many as 40 percent of concussions, a recent unpublished study concluded. A second exam, on which the Pentagon has spent millions, yields results that top medical officials call about as reliable as a coin flip.
- Even when military doctors diagnose head injuries, that information often doesn’t make it into soldiers’ permanent medical files. Handheld medical devices designed to transmit data have failed in the austere terrain of the war zones. Paper records from Iraq and Afghanistan have been lost, burned or abandoned in warehouses, officials say, when no one knew where to ship them.
- Without diagnosis and official documentation, soldiers with head wounds have had to battle for appropriate treatment. Some received psychotropic drugs instead of rehabilitative therapy that could help retrain their brains. Others say they have received no treatment at all, or have been branded as malingerers.
Read the full investigation at ProPublica or NPR. It’s some of the deepest work on the subject we’ve seen thus far, and includes incredible quotes such as “What’s the harm in missing the diagnosis of mTBI?” as well as graphics and an explanation of why the numbers are so fuzzy.