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Monday, July 09, 2007

Quick Stats on Types of VA Services Being Drawn by Returning Troops

From the [Maryland] Herald-Mail:

Military members serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have more exposure to improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, than veterans of past wars, so doctors are seeing more blast and blunt trauma injuries, according to officials at the Martinsburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Other medical conditions these veterans are dealing with upon returning home include traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Of approximately 686,000 troops who had returned from Iraq and Afghanistan and left the military, about 229,000 had gone to Veterans Affairs facilities as of April for health care, whether it was a veteran getting a flu shot or a quadriplegic receiving perpetual care, said VA spokesman Phil Budahn in Washington, D.C.

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Some info on traumatic brain injuries:

Budahn said he didn't have specific statistics for injuries caused by IEDs, but the VA was treating about 400 people for traumatic brain injuries. Such injuries could range from subtle symptoms such as loss of concentration all the way up to extreme personality changes and short-term memory loss. In the past, everyone thought they understood the risks of traumatic brain injury to be obvious physical injury such as shrapnel, so traumatic brain injury wasn't always properly diagnosed, Budahn said.

But in 2003, a study out of the Tampa, Fla., VA hospital pointed out that people could experience a closed head trauma, or concussion, with no visible wounds, just from being close to a bomb going off, said Dr. John Sentell, chief of Mental Health Service at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center. The brain can get injured from an IED blast without visible blood; even from the brain being jostled in the skull from the blast, Sentell said. These less obvious traumatic brain injuries are more common in today's wars and often make diagnosis difficult.

More injury stats in a recent USA Today piece:

More than 800 of them have lost an arm, a leg, fingers or toes. More than 100 are blind. Dozens need tubes and machines to keep them alive. Hundreds are disfigured by burns, and thousands have brain injuries and mangled minds.

These are America's war wounded, a toll that has received less attention than the 3,500 troops killed in Iraq. Depending on how you count them, they number between 35,000 and 53,000. More of them are coming home, with injuries of a scope and magnitude the government did not predict and is now struggling to treat. ...

Survival rates today are even higher than the record levels set early in the war, thanks to body armor and better care. For every American soldier or Marine killed in Iraq, 15 others have survived illness or injury there. Unlike previous wars, few of them have been shot. The signature weapon of this war — the improvised explosive device, or IED — has left a signature wound: traumatic brain injury.

Soldiers hit in the head or knocked out by blasts — "getting your bell rung" is the military euphemism — sometimes have no visible wounds but a fog of war in their minds. They can be addled, irritable, depressed and unaware they are impaired.

VIDEO: Troop injuries overwhelm government

Only an estimated 2,000 cases of brain injury have been treated, but doctors think many less obvious cases have gone undetected. One small study found that more than half of one group of wounded troops arriving at Walter Reed Army Medical Center had brain injuries. Around the nation, a new effort is underway to check every returning man and woman for this possibility.

Some of those on active duty may have subtle brain damage that was missed when they were treated for more visible wounds. Half of those wounded in action returned to duty within 72 hours — before some brain injuries may have been apparent. The military just adopted new procedures to spot these cases, too.

Back home, concerns grow about care. The Walter Reed hospital scandal and problems with some VA nursing homes have led Republicans and Democrats to call for better care for this new crop of veterans. A lucky few get Cadillac care at one of the VA's four polytrauma centers, where the most complex wounds are treated with state-of-the-art techniques and whiz-bang devices like "power knee" or "smart ankle" prosthetics. Others battle bureaucracy to see doctors or get basic benefits in less ideal settings.

Returning to the Herald-Mail:

The VA Hospital in Martinsburg has the largest post-traumatic stress disorder program among VA hospitals in the nation, hospital officials said. Typically the 50-bed residential treatment unit is full with one-fourth of those patients having served in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom. ...

The Martinsburg VA Medical Center added outpatient treatment within the last six months, Sentell said. Many veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder are reservists with spouses and jobs, so they don't want to take the time to enter a residential program. They get individual and group counseling after hours.

While some Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom veterans are more likely than veterans of past wars to show up for help with their spouses or parents, there are still some veterans who hesitate to seek counseling because of the perception of a social stigma, VA officials said.

VA Medical Center officials said their hope is that veterans will seek out assistance through the VA if they need it. Some of the programs set up to help veterans include counseling not just with the veterans, but also with their families because they also are affected, officials said.

Read the rest, find VA services near you or graze through many more OEF/OIF stats.

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