| Ander Nieuws week 46 / nieuwe oorlog 2007 |
Undiagnosed brain injury - the hidden legacy of Iraq
MoD begins study amid fears that up to 20,000 soldiers may be affected

The Guardian
October 27, 2007
By Matthew Taylor and Esther Addley
The Ministry of Defence is conducting a major study into brain injury in troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan amid fears that thousands of soldiers may have suffered damage after being exposed to high-velocity explosions.
The US army says as many as 20% of its soldiers and marines have suffered "mild traumatic brain injury" (mTBI) from blows to the head or shockwaves caused by explosions. The condition, which can lead to memory loss, depression and anxiety, has been designated as one of four "signature injuries" of the Iraq conflict by the US department of defence, which is introducing a large-scale screening programme for troops returning from the frontline.
Defence officials were reluctant to extrapolate directly from the US experience, arguing that the science is still inconclusive and that the US and UK experience in Iraq and Afghanistan has been different. But the Guardian has learned that the government has put in place a series of measures - including a comprehensive screening process - to deal with what could be a 20-fold increase in troops with mTBI. If the most alarming US predictions are accurate, as many as 20,000 UK troops could be at risk.
Kit Malia, a cognitive rehabilitation therapist who will oversee the programme to treat TBI at Headley Court military rehabilitation centre in Surrey, said: "I think the issue is that we don't know whether the Americans are correct. But if the American figures are correct, this is massive. Absolutely massive."
Surgeon commodore Lionel Jarvis, director of medical policy at the MoD, said the UK is doing all it can to improve diagnosis and treatment of the condition and is "running very, very much in parallel" with the US. He added: "The only significant difference is that there is a much higher political profile on this in the US."
He said the MoD had drawn up a list of measures to help deal with mTBI that included circulating information to all ranks in the field on what symptoms to look out for; plans to screen all service personnel when they return from combat; a four-stage treatment programme at Headley Court; and research into body armour to improve protection for the brain.
Liam Fox, the Conservative defence spokesman, said: "It is a dereliction of duty, a failure of duty of care. They are already well behind the US in terms of identifying this disease. We have to ask again why should US troops be getting better care than British troops?"
The mTBI injury can occur when a soldier gets a blow on the head or is in close proximity to an explosion. The increased use of improvised explosive devices (IEDS) - roadside bombs - in Iraq and Afghanistan means more troops are at risk than in previous conflicts, and experts say that even the most advanced helmets cannot protect the brain from the shock waves.
Guardian Unlimited (c) Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007
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