The Pentagon needs to overhaul its approach to treating the tens of thousands of U.S. troops who might have traumatic brain injury, the most common injury of the Iraq war, according to a previously undisclosed Department of Defense memorandum obtained by USA Today.
The memo was released this week in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by USA Today.
According to the Aug. 11, 2006, memo -- signed by Wayne Lednar, an epidemiologist, and Gregory Poland, chief of the Defense Health Board -- troops with mild and moderate brain injury are of the greatest concern because their injuries are difficult to recognize and can limit mental performance.
According to the memo, "There remains a need to better understand the unique characteristics of blast-associated TBI and to reduce the health risk and complications from mild or moderate forms of brain injury."
The memo noted that the Pentagon's best work on TBI involved the most severe injuries.
The memo recommended that the Pentagon improve protective gear for troops; standardize battlefield methods to recognize brain injuries; develop better methods to determine when an injured soldier can return to duty; and screen all returning troops for brain injury.
In response to the memo, the Pentagon on Wednesday said that it will allocate $14 million to fund more research on blast injuries and provide combat zone medics with evaluation forms to diagnose mild brain injuries.
Pentagon spokesperson Cynthia Smith said, "Our goal is to identify TBI as soon as possible."
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), an advocate of improved brain injury treatment, called the findings of the report "outrageous."
She added, "Four years into the war and we still don't have a systemwide plan" (Zoroya, USA Today, 3/8).