Friday, June 27, 2008

Military troops to receive cognitive screening to help identify any TBI later

From the Hartford Courant June 25:

The military will begin giving cognitive tests this summer to troops heading to war, in an effort to get a baseline measure of their reaction time, memory, concentration and other brain functions, which could be referenced in case they are injured.

The introduction of the neuropsychological screening comes in response to pressure from Congress and veterans' advocates. They have been pushing the military to assess the cognitive functioning of all deploying troops so symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury, dubbed the 'signature injury' of the Iraq war, can be detected more easily during and after combat.

Assistant Defense Secretary S. Ward Casscells recently directed military leaders to begin pre-deployment screening of troops by late-July, using a computer-based test known as the Automated Neuropsychological Assessment Metrics, or ANAM, a Department of Defense spokeswoman confirmed in written responses to The Courant.

The testing, which takes about 15 to 20 minutes, will 'allow for greater levels of accuracy when making assessments following injury,' said the spokeswoman, Cynthia Smith.

Some veterans' advocates have complained that the military has moved too slowly in identifying and addressing mild traumatic brain injury, or TBI, a common injury among troops in Iraq and Afghanistan who are exposed to blasts of improvised explosive devices. While shrapnel from the devices can penetrate the skull, the blasts also can cause neurological injuries that are hard to detect.

A study this year by the RAND Corporation estimated that close to one in five deployed service members — or about 320,000 — may have experienced a traumatic brain injury.