Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What You Need to Know about TBI

The following information was presented at a recent ICF International Event on Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) attended by ROA legislative intern Courtney Whiteman.

Definition:

TBI is defined by DoD as a “traumatically induced structural injury or physiological disruption of brain function as a result of an external force.” Usually, TBI is caused by a foreign object striking or penetrating one’s head. However, events without direct trauma to the head, such as rapid acceleration or deceleration movements or blasts, can also cause TBI.

Scope of the Problem:

According to DoD, 202,281 members of the Armed Forces suffered from TBI between 2000 and 2010.

Effects:

Symptoms of TBI can be physical, emotional, or cognitive. Some of the most common symptoms include decreased consciousness; loss of memory; neurological deficits such as weakness or loss of balance; and the manifestation of other psychological disorders.

Difficulty Identifying & Treating TBI:

A major obstacle to effective treatment of TBI is providing adequate screening and identification for the injury. The condition often goes unidentified for a number of reasons. One is the stigma attached to mental and psychological injuries, especially among service members. A pervasive lack of understanding creates the misperception that these types of injuries are less legitimate than purely physical injuries. Those closest to these returning veterans often mistakenly attribute changes in behavior to symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These types of confusions can lead to costly delays in proper treatment. Family, friends, and employers of veterans should gain familiarity with the symptoms of TBI and be wary of the distinction.

Also, the high rate of co-morbidity seen in victims of TBI can greatly complicate the diagnosis of TBI. A study carried out by a Boston-area VA reported that of all soldiers who complained of TBI, chronic pain, or PTSD, 42.1% suffered from all three. Overlapping ailments can make it extremely difficult to determine exactly which injuries or disorders a veteran suffers from, as well as how to treat them all simultaneously and effectively.
Because of the difficulties in treatment and the lack of knowledge about TBI, there is no definitive treatment for those who suffer from this injury, and little has been done to find one.

ROA’s Support for Alternative Treatments:

ROA advocates the use of alternative treatments, particularly hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), to combat TBI in returning veterans. HBOT is the medical use of pure oxygen at a level of pressure much higher than atmospheric pressure. Little research or funding for HBOT has been carried out, as the VA and DoD maintain that there is no conclusive evidence that it is effective. However, in anecdotal studies, several patients have reported vast improvements in their cognitive function, physical health, and mental health. ROA strongly supports increased funding for the research of hyperbaric oxygen therapy and other alternative treatments for TBI. If effectively utilized, these treatments may be a pivotal resource in allowing veterans to successfully transition to civilian life after deployment.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Today is National PTSD Awareness Day

One year ago today, Congress passed Senate Resolution 541 establishing June 27 as National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Day. Three years prior, the inspiration for this day came from the tragic death of Staff Sgt. Joe Biel. A North Dakota National Guardsman with the 164th Engineer Combat Battalion, Biel took his own life on April 26, 2007 following the completion of his second tour in Iraq. After his death Biel's fellow Guardsmen grappled with their understanding of the invisible wounds that had so clearly beset their friend. Determined to raise awareness they shared Biel's story with Sen. Kent Conrad who eventually developed the resolution which would establish Sgt. Biel's birthday as a national day of education and remembrance for all those who too often suffer in silence.

This June 27, should serve as a reminder that despite the massive scale at which our military missions are carried out, the burdens of these conflicts are truly borne at the lowest levels; manifested through individual sacrifice. The story of Staff Sgt. Biel, and the thousands like him, who suffer the afflictions of these invisible wounds should remind us that each sacrifice has a face of its own, that each individual bears the burdens of conflict in a distinct and personal way.

For thousands of Citizen Warriors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, the face of that sacrifice has been symptoms of PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The Department of Veterans Affairs conservatively estimates that some 300,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan will suffer from PTSD. An additional 320,000 will have suffered some type of TBI. These have become the signature wounds of our current operations, the signature sacrifice for an entire generation of service members.

The Reserve Officers Association strongly advocates for a continued emphasis on recognition and treatment for both Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. Both conditions require continued research into the most effective treatments and each requires heightened awareness and public support to ensure a healthy and peaceful transition for all service members returning home. On this PTSD Awareness Day 2011, ROA encourages all individuals, citizen and soldier alike, to learn more about PTSD and to actively support all veterans returning from conflict.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

ROA Position on Plan to Overhaul Military Retirement

The question below on active duty retirement was recently posed by an ROA member; please see the answer for ROA's response.

Q: Is there any hope of successfully changing the ridiculous active duty retirement benefits in order to reduce the budget strain of expanding personnel costs and gain some parity in military retirement plans at the same time? I hope ROA supports what is obviously going to be an unpopular initiative with the other associations that care more about benefits than increasing national security!

A: First proposed by DoD in 2003 under Secretary Rumsfeld, a suggested retirement plan is still being circulated within the Pentagon that would permit active duty members to “retire” as early as ten years in, allowing them to keep matching funds in a 401(k)-style savings after ten years of service. Those members who serve 20 years would receive full benefits starting at age 57. ROA speculates that some of the resistance to earlier retirement for the Guard and Reserve is this proposal making the active duty retirement closer to the Reserve retirement, thus creating an inverted parity. To sell this concept, those currently serving would be grandfathered, delaying any savings for almost 20 years, unless this would reduce the annual liability where the Pentagon has to contribute to a retirement fund for every member in the military yearly.

ROA has watched this proposal evolve. The Association’s concern is that this proposal would create two tiers of benefits. An older generation of “haves” who continue with current benefits, and a younger generation of “have nots” who would be under the new system. While federal employees did go through a change to their retirement, the federal retirement plan is not for a population that risks their lives to defend the United States on the front lines. Such a change to retirement would create the problematic situation of two soldiers in a fox hole with different benefits. ROA has fought against that situation for decades as we sought parity for the Guard and Reserve.