It is the signature wound of the war in Iraq. And it may not leave any visible signs of injury at all. It can happen when a Humvee rolls over, when a soldier finds himself the victim of a sniper's bullet, or when an improvised explosive device detonates nearby.
It is Traumatic Brain Injury, or TBI, and it can cause sleep disorders, memory problems and depression. Any troop within the vicinity of a blast is at risk, meaning tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of veterans will be affected. For many, the symptoms may be relatively mild, and the condition often goes undiagnosed. Gary Watts, a soldier who suffered TBI when his truck rolled down an embankment in Iraq, said that he initially had only 'a sore neck and a bad, bad headache.' Later, his TBI caused memory lapses and emotional outbursts.
In our 2007 Legislative Agenda, IAVA has been leading the fight on TBI issues, calling for mandatory TBI screenings for all combat troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. In April, an independent review group, appointed by Defense Secretary Gates to respond to the problems at Walter Reed, recommended troops be screened before and after their deployments. IAVA kept the pressure on by working with ABC on 'Bob Woodruff: To Iraq and Back', a powerful segment that follows Woodruff's long recovery from TBI, and looks at the care veterans with TBI are getting when they come home. This historic program shifted the debate and made TBI treatment a central issue for the nation. If you missed it the first time, you can watch it online now.
Now, I am happy to report that the VA has taken notice. Last week, it issued a directive announcing that beginning in the spring, all troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who seek VA care will be screened for TBI. This is a major step in the right direction.
But the new policy will only affect about 200,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans - those who have voluntarily sought VA medical care after being discharged. That leaves over one million men and women who will not be screened.
That's why we're calling for mandatory screenings for all troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Every single one of them. But we need your help. To learn more about TBI, and to join the fight for universal screening, visit www.iava.org.