Counting The Wounded

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Traumatic brain injuries are the most insidious wounds being suffered by U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our armored vehicles, body armor and helmets have gotten so good, the only thing left to damage in many cases when IEDs blow up are soldiers’ brains rattling around inside their skulls. Haven’t figured out how to stop that from happening yet.

The Pentagon notes:

Because blast exposure is so common in the combat zones and almost everyone has had some of the acute symptoms of concussion, it may not be identified as problematic until the service member returns home from the deployment. …Concussions and TBI related to significant blast exposure are also likely to have other important co-morbid conditions present. For example, the patient may also have combat stress or depression associated with a return from deployment; it is very challenging for the medical providers in these situations to determine what symptoms are due to the concussion and which symptoms are due to the combat stress or depression.

Despite all the talk about how things are getting better in the war zones, new Pentagon figures show that there were more traumatic brain injuries in 2010 than in any year since the wars began. U.S. troops suffered 605.9 TBIs per month last year — about 20 a day — just edging out 2008’s 605.3 monthly toll. Symptoms of TBI can range from fatigue, dizziness and memory loss in mild cases, to aggression, depression, emotional instability and chronic pain in severe ones.

This is grim news, indeed, especially given the Pentagon’s problems dealing with TBI. On the good news front: amputations are down from their war-time peak (although the 2010 toll of 15.2 per month is more than double 2009’s 7.3).