Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is promoting a new Army policy that would limit the number of mild traumatic brain injuries an Army combat soldier can suffer before being relieved of combat duty. The new policy would limit soldiers’ exposure to three mild brain injuries, after which they would be reassigned to non-combat positions on Army bases.
Mullen is motivated partially by a disturbing story of a soldier who was exposed to 30 explosions at close range before being removed from combat duty. USA Today reported that if the policy were enacted, it is estimated that only about 400 soldiers, out of the 20,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan, would be removed from combat and put to work on bases for the duration of their tour of duty.
Admiral Mullen is motivated also by data published in recent studies on multiple concussions and traumatic brain injuries experienced by football players. The studies, reported on here, demonstrated that people whose brains had suffered multiple concussions would heal more slowly from future injuries and would be more likely to have more serious future concussions. The same studies also showed that multiple brain injury sufferers have also been shown to be at a higher risk for long-term brain dysfunction and complications.
We have explored some of the explosive blasts. While the injuries are similar to those experienced by football players, the exposure to bomb blasts has a distinctly different and less understood effect on the brain.
The USA Today article reported that, ‘up to 300,000 service members may have suffered a mild TBI in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.’ It is data like this that has spurred Admiral Mullen to take action to prevent soldiers from suffering serious long-term brain damage that could be prevented by a simple change in policy.
The U.S. Marines already operate under a policy that limits marines to three mild traumatic brain injuries before removal from combat, and the Army is currently designing a policy that will likely follow suit. Although further research is ongoing, the workings of the brain and how it reacts to injuries remain mysterious and not fully understood. Yet, as more and more studies are published, it’s inspiring to see military leaders using current scientific data in the design of their policies and protocols.
(pic from ameddcsdl.org)