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Government study on brain injuries in veterans is inconclusive

Since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan more than a decade ago, the U.S. Department of Defense has provided more than 130,000 hours of cognitive rehabilitation to active duty and retired service members who suffered head and brain injuries during combat. In an effort to better tailor rehabilitative therapies to the veteran and his or her specific injury, the government commissioned a report to determine whether the techniques used to treat these brain injuries were appropriate and helpful.

Last week, the report came back with one overwhelming conclusion: much more research is needed before scientists and medical professionals will be able to determine which therapies are appropriate for which veteran.

The report, which was completed by the federal Institute of Medicine, stated that approximately 20 percent of service members who were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan suffered hits to the head, face or neck. In addition, the number of brain injuries among service members has tripled in the past 10 years, going from 11,000 to 30,000.

Neurology professor Dr. Ira Shoulson says that it is difficult to evaluate traumatic brain injury treatment because of the wide variance in severity of injuries. In addition, he says, veterans often sustain multiple physical and psychological injuries during their service, making it hard to pinpoint whether the brain injury is responsible for various symptoms.

According to Dr. Jordan Grafman of the Traumatic Brain Injury Research Laboratory, any use of cognitive rehabilitation techniques, which generally focus on improving memory, focus, and decision-making, can make a positive difference for a veteran who has suffered a brain injury. Hopefully, researchers can find additional treatment methods in the near future to help veterans recover from the injuries they sustained during service.

Source: New York Times, "Treatment of Trauma to Brain Is Studied," Benedict Carey, Oct. 11, 2011

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