Traumatic brain injuries, also known as TBIs, are the signature injuries to troops serving in Iraq. As of this date, government estimates show 25 to 40 percent of American troops have experienced an incident that may have caused a traumatic brain injury. What is a traumatic brain injury? It is the result of physical trauma to the fragile tissue of the brain, chemical disruption, or damage to the nerve cells from loss of oxygen. Common causes of TBI are falls, sports injuries, strokes, aneurysms, vehicle or bicycle accidents, assaults/blows and explosive blasts.
Severity ranges from mild in which there is a brief change in mental state or consciousness, to severe in which there is an extended period of unconsciousness or amnesia after the injury. Although not life-threatening, the long-term effects of even a mild TBI can be serious.
Common symptoms immediately after injury include being dazed, confused, seeing stars or having your bell rung. The injured may also not remember the injury and/or lose consciousness. All brain injuries are different and so is recovery. Most people with mild injuries recover fully, but it may take time. Some symptoms may last for days, weeks or longer.
Common symptoms later on may be broken down into two categories motor and sensory symptoms and cognitive and emotional symptoms.
Motor and sensory symptoms include headaches, dizziness, pain, fatigue, seizures, spasticity, sleep disturbances, hydrocephalus, and sensory deficits such as visual, vestibular, strength and coordination.
Cognitive and emotional symptoms include irritability, impaired judgment, personality change, lability, slower thinking, substance abuse, disinhibition, physical aggression, depression, decreased concentration and focus, poor control over basic physical urges, impulsive/disruptive behavior, and no filter on thoughts or actions.
Many soldiers returning from Iraq do not realize they are injured and wont seek assistance. We, their families, friends, and community members, must work to assist them to get to health care providers who can help.
Here in Plattsburgh, there are many providers who can assist veterans with diagnosis and treatment for traumatic brain injuries as well as the providers at the VA Primary Care Clinic.
Local providers who can assist in getting properly diagnosed and starting the recovery process include: North Country Regional TBI Center Clinton County Mental Health; West Bay Associates Essex County Mental Health; Catholic Charities St. Josephs Rehabilitation; Clinton County Veterans Service Agency Family Counseling; VA Primary Care Clinic; Behavioral Health Services North; and Franklin County Veterans Agency.
I urge all family members who believe their returning veteran is experiencing symptoms as described in this article to contact my office at 565-4720 and seek medical care. My staff can also assist them in accessing healthcare through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Steven W. Bowman serves as director of the Clinton County Veterans Service Agency, located at the Clinton County Government Center, 137 Margaret St., Plattsburgh.