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By Clinton D Pearman, PhD.c, Master Gunnery Sergeant, Ret. (USMC)
Help Heal Veterans, Board of Directors, Certified Brain Injury Specialist
As Warfighters, we operate on the philosophy, “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” We take risks, we put the success of the mission before our own well-being, we put our lives on the line, and we do whatever it takes to win. It is country before self, always. We work hard, we play hard, we fight hard, and in the process, we don’t always walk away unscathed.
However, as warfighters, we are trained from day one to “suck it up and carry on.” We apply this principle to everything we do, from minor concerns to life-threatening issues; we simply suck it up and complete the mission. While this is a hallmark of what makes us who we are as warriors, there are instances when “sucking it up” may have serious, negative consequences for our health.
Such is the case with traumatic brain injury (TBI), a major cause of injury and death among our Armed Forces. TBI is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head, or a penetrating head injury that disrupts normal function of the brain. The severity of the TBI is determined at the time of the injury and may be classified as mild, moderate or severe. It’s often referred to as the signature injury of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
We know TBI is prevalent, but exactly how prevalent is another question. Since the year 2000, The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) has reported 357,048 diagnosed cases of TBI. For the last several years that number has increased quarterly. However, these are diagnosed cases of TBI. The actual number of service members who may have sustained a TBI is likely much higher because many TBIs are unreported.
War fighters believe that if we are still breathing and can move, we can suck it up and continue the mission. Therefore, when we are injured, many of us simply suck it up and carry on. The question then arises, how do you know if you have sustained a TBI and should report it to medical staff? For active duty military, potential concussive events include:
Being in a vehicle collision, rollover, or vehicle-related blast event.
Experiencing a direct blow to the head, including non-combat head injuries.
Someone says or you feel that you have lost consciousness.
Being within 50 meters of a blast (inside or outside).
Exposure to more than one blast event.
If you have had a jolt or blow to the head and subsequently experience headaches, ringing in the ears, a state of mental confusion, loss of consciousness, dizziness, double vision, or a feeling that something is not right, it’s time to seek help. If you experience slowed thinking, poor concentration, memory problems, depression and anxiety, irritability and mood swings, it’s time to get help.
Untreated, TBI can lead to serious problems for the war fighter, including:
Decreased situational awareness
Reduced performance under pressure
Trouble multi-tasking, such as driving a vehicle while listening to instructions over a radio
Fear of performing in certain operational environments
While we may not be able to seek immediate help while in a combat situation, it is imperative to seek help as soon as possible.
Whether we are active duty, retired, or veterans, it is up to us to help each other. It is our duty as comrades, and it is the responsibility of all leaders to ensure that our service members receive the help they need.
It’s time to debunk the stigma surrounding TBI to make sure those who sacrifice time and time again for their country get the help and the treatment they need. Your mind is your most valuable weapon. The best way to protect that weapon—and to stay healthy and mentally tough—is to know how to identify potential concussive events, learn the signs and symptoms of TBIs, and report to medical to get evaluated if you are involved in a potential concussive event.
There are resources to get you the help you need so you can get back in the fight with your best weapon intact.
For more information go to http://dvbic.dcoe.mil/