More U.S. soldiers than ever are sustaining serious brain injuries in Iraq. But a significant number of them are being misdiagnosed, forced to wait for treatment or even being called liars by the Army.
Being called liars?!
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Mark Benjamin's Salon piece introduces us to 24-year old Spc. James Wilson. He's a proud soldier who's served two tours in Iraq - including heavy combat in the opening days of the invasion.
In the fall of 2004, his 1st Cavalry Division was mostly fighting in Sadr City, a volatile sector of Baghdad. On Sept. 6, Wilson was manning a .50-caliber machine gun atop a Humvee when a bomb or bombs went off directly under the vehicle, rocking his head forward and slamming it into the machine gun. A fellow soldier told Wilson that his Kevlar helmet had been split open by the impact. The heat from one blast felt like "a hair dryer" on his skin, multiplied "times 20," Wilson later wrote in his diary. To the best of his recollection, the force of the blast also knocked the gun from its mount, smashing it into his leg.
From all outward appearances, he miraculously survived the incident.
Two weeks later, however, he was on his way to Walter Reed Hospital; Wilson's dazed, light-headed symptoms had led Army medics to believe that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]. But the medics turned out to be wrong.
Wilson's symptoms included:
- short-term memory loss
- severe headaches with eye pain
- dizzy spells that lead to vomiting
Despite Wilson's description of his injury and his symptoms, Walter Reed officials repeatedly questioned his mental state and the authenticity of his combat story. In a June 2005 memorandum from an Army Physical Evaluation Board, some Walter Reed doctors stated that Wilson exhibited "conversion disorder with symptoms of traumatic brain injury." Conversion disorder holds that symptoms such as seizures arise from a psychological conflict rather than a physical disorder.
Col. James F. Babbitt, president of the Physical Evaluation Board, accused Wilson of being a liar. "I believe that the preponderance of the evidence available to the Board supports an alternative diagnosis ... one of malingering," Babbitt wrote in that memo.
Defined: Evading duty or work by pretending to be incapacitated.
Spc. Wilson and his wife, Heidi, weren't going to just roll over and take the malingering charge without a fight. They strongly opposed the diagnosis, and worked vehemently to get the proper medical treatment. The malingering charge also stung this proud veteran. "I want my dignity, pride and respect back," Wilson says. After serving his country, being accused of misleading doctors, he says, "is the worst thing in the world."
Is this the proper care that our soldiers should be receiving upon their return to us? A year spent dealing not only with physically debilitating symptoms, but with the added burden of fighting the very government that sent them to war?
On Dec. 19, 2005, more than a year after he was admitted, Walter Reed finally sent Wilson to a neurological center to be treated for traumatic brain injury. Neuropsychological testing done at Walter Reed on Oct. 11, 2005, led officials to conclude that "there was no indication of malingering."
According to a neurosurgeon with extensive experience treating combat head injuries, an October 2004 MRI of Wilson, combined with a description of his symptoms, showed that he should have been treated for a traumatic brain injury right then. Medical experts say the failure to treat a brain-injury victim promptly could hinder recovery.
Unfortunately, Wilson isn't the only one getting this type of `treatment'.
Salon conducted interviews with other soldiers suffering from brain injuries at Walter Reed. They are as frustrated and anguished by the delays and suggestions that their problems are a result of mental or hereditary illnesses.
Salon also interviewed military doctors and examined medical records and found Walter Reed is swamped with brain-injury cases. " [A] significant number of brain-injury patients are falling through the cracks from a lack of resources, know-how, and even blatant neglect."
- USA Today: OEF/OIF Combat Traumatic Brain Injury Tops 20,000 Cases
- VFA Releases Report on the Treatment of America's Wounded Warriors
- Idaho State University's Free TBI Education Programs
- VA: About 6 Percent of OEF/OIF Vets Expected to be Diagnosed with TBI
- Combat Traumatic Brain Injury Perplexes Caregivers, Strains VA System
- Bob Woodruff Updates on February TBI Story
- Hand2Hand Contact Brings Soldiers All the Way Home, Easter Seals Helps Vets with TBI
- Army Begins 90-Day Push to Educate 1 Million Soldiers on PTSD/TBI
- The American Conservative and IL Governor Take on Traumatic Brain Injury
- VA Chief: All Vets Seeking VA Treatment Now Screened for TBI/PTSD
- Army to Hire 25% More Mental Healthcare Workers, Senate Committee Votes to Increase TBI, PTSD Screening
- Lead Ft. Lewis Army Lawyer: Military Stacks Deck Against PTSD, TBI-injured Troops
- Editorial: Pushing Quick Retirement for PTSD/TBI-injured Troops is Wrong
- Walter Reed Hearings Review and Latest Developments
- IL Chief of Vets Affairs Tammy Duckworth Testifies on TBI and PTSD
- Traumatic Brain Injury: IAVA's Rieckhoff and VA's Nicholson Square Off
- ABC News Tuesday: Bob Woodruff Returns
- On CCN: Purple Hearts, Broken Bodies
- Protecting Our Troops from Traumatic Brain Injury
- Newsweek Covers Combat PTSD and Brain Trauma
- Cuts to Vet Brain Trauma Funding Planned
- WaPo: Walter Reed Patients 'Neglected, Frustrated'