Apathy and the brain-injured soldier

Is it possible that we’re so used to these stories now that we just accept it as the way things are?

A lot of things have changed since questions were first raised a few years ago (here’s a 2004 series) about the quality of care injured soldiers were getting from the country they served. Back then, there was outrage from officials, plenty of news coverage, and promises that things would change.

But this week’s reaction to NPR’s fine series on failures of the military to properly treat traumatic brain injuries of soldiers has been different. There’s been almost no public or political reaction to the series of reports.

We know that if people see graphic images often enough, they’ll become desensitized to the problem. Is it possible that we’re so used to these stories now that we just accept it as the way things are?

Two comments on NPR’s Web site, however, speak to the tension over the issue that exists inside the military.

One is from a former Army neurologist:

As a former Army neurologist and Afghanistan combat veteran, I can state unequivocally that your piece on TBI made FoxNews look “fair and balanced”. Mild Traumatic Brain Injury, as currently defined, is a condition characterized by having been in a blast, and now with some lingering neuropsychological deficits. The difficulty with this definition is that it fails to include any objective indications of injury. CT and MRI for these patients is normal(if it was abnormal, they would be called moderate or severe TBI). The outcome is amorphous and symptoms are often identical to PTSD with the addition of headache, and ignoring the accompanying psychopathology for these soldiers does them an incredible disservice. Furthermore, singling out CPT Theeler with the implication that he is incompetent or uncaring is frankly wrong. He is one of the brightest doctors that I had the pleasure to train, and his attention to patient care is unparalleled. Furthermore, he is a leading researcher on post-traumatic headache (for which he has been on NPR). Before you launch into an expose of soldier mistreatment, I recommend that you fully explore the medical basis for the servicemembers’ condition and complaints. fmr MAJ, John Ney, MD

And one is from a soldier:

These articles are very important for NPR to air. I survived severe TBI 12 years ago and I now serve on the Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory board of CO. The statements of the Army medical staff (and the comments of listener Aaron Bussey) surprise me at the ridiculousness of their suggestions that anxiety or PTSD is the REAL CAUSE of the symptoms that our soldiers experience.

More than 4 years ago, I emailed NPR and encouraged them to air a story on how brain injury was being neglected by the Army doctors or misdiagnosed at PTSD. This fact was well known by TBI professionals and survivors more than 4 years ago! Finally, thanks to the long needed reports by NPR, the US public is waking up to the very serious physical injury that accompanies a VERY MANY of our soldiers returning to this country. Though the consequences of TBI vary widely, emotional dyscontrol (or the problem of controlling one’s emotions) is one of the more common consequences of a TBI. I fear that the majority of the public in the USA will require more severe (and, sometimes, deadly) anger outbursts of our veterans before they realize how our soldiers are bringing the war back home when they return from the battlefield.

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