60 Minutes: Military Traumatic Brain Injury & NICOE SWI Brain Scan

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60 Minutes: Invisible Wounds

For 60 Minutes, CBS News correspondent David Martin reported on the brain damage we lately have come to associate with athletes in sports such as football. But medical research is proving that these types of injuries are also affecting the US military and up to a quarter million servicemembers just in the past decade. What is the Pentagon doing about these invisible injuries? Read on to find out about SWI imaging and state of the art treatment centers like NICOE.

60 Minutes: Multiple Concussions & Traumatic Brain Injury

60 Minutes: Military Traumatic Brain Injury & NICOE SWI Brain Scan

60 Minutes explored traumatic brain injury in the military and state of the art facilities treating wounded soldiers with invisible injuries; SWI scans.

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Ben Richards said he would rather have an amputated limb than a permanent brain injury due to concussions in combat.

“My head hurt for about a week,” he said of the initial symptoms. But he and his servicemembers had to go back to work the next day. Seven of his unit’s 17 vehicles were destroyed, and his brain injury was only discovered later.

His wife, Farrah, could see the difference in his behavior when her husband returned from war. He was initially diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and struggled with that misdiagnosis through four years of treatment.

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60 Minutes: UCLA Brain Injury Research Center

After being promoted to professor at West Point, Richards found himself drawing blanks while lecturing and getting poor reviews from his supervisor.

“I don’t think I was ever suicidal,” he said, but recalled that he was thinking of ways to escape his situation and get a break.

Finally, Dr David Hovda from UCLA’s Brain Injury Research Center convinced the Pentagon about the potentially lasting damage from concussions, that was not visible on the outside.

The dramatic physical damage to the brain from even a mild concussion can be similar to that of a patient in a coma.

60 Minutes: General Pete Chiarelli & Pentagon Head Injuries

Retired general Pete Chiarelli said this was a turning point for the Army about the serious nature of these injuries. Traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress made up more than 1/3 of the combat injuries for Iraq and Afghanistan vets, compared to amputations, which came in at 10%.

Chiarelli said the statistics were shocking, and he brought Dr Hovda to the Pentagon for a briefing. Pentagon doctors were concerned that removing brain injury victims from battle could create a psychological block for wounded warriors.

60 Minutes: NFL Head Injuries

Chiarelli disagreed, emphasizing the need for intervention and changing the policy to remove soldiers with concussions for recovery. Incurring a second concussion before the first injury heals can cause long-term cognitive damage.

It’s similar to what Dr Hovda observed when consulting for the National Football League. I suspect it’s no accident that 60 Minutes saved this report until after football season. Hovda’s concern was that military head injury victims could be facing dementia or an increased suicide risk.

60 Minutes: National Intrepid Center of Excellence

Arnold Fisher, a private citizen, endeavored to build a brain injury center for those veterans who were already injured. He wanted to build a high quality facility quickly and without government interference.

He previously built a facility for military amputees in California. Now he has raised $72 million for a brain injury center near Washington, D.C.

The facility opened in June 2010 and was called the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, a mental health facility teaming patients with a team of specialists to evaluate brain health.

60 Minutes: SWI Brain Scan Technology

The technology has the ability to take 10,000 times the amount of pictures seen in a standard MRI. Dr James Kelley, director of the facility, showed how the more advanced SWI (susceptibility-weighted imaging) screening method can pick up on physical brain injuries not seen in an MRI.

Removing the guesswork from the diagnosis process is paying off already. NICOE picked up on abnormalities in over 1/3 of the facility’s patients. But there’s a catch: the facility can only treat 20 patients in a month, meaning only a fraction of veterans can get needed treatment.

That’s because about 250,000 servicemembers suffered traumatic brain injuries over the past 11 years, and no one knows exactly how many are suffering permanent damage.

How do you explain brain damage you can’t see and don’t know is there? For Seargent Allen Hill, a NICOE brain scan vindicated him. He said that some people think soldiers fake symptoms that can’t be seen with the eye alone.

60 Minutes: Ben Richards Brain Damage

Ben Richards also found out about his brain injuries at NICOE, and has loss of activity on one side of the brain. Seeing the damage, he explained, made it real that he has a physical injury.

But while knowing the truth can give some peace of mind, there is no cure for brain damage. Experts can only teach coping methods and attempt to prevent future injuries. For Richards, he said the new guidelines would not have changed his decision to go back into battle.

Arnold Fisher is moved by these stories, and he has tackled a new mission: raising $90 million to build similar brain injury centers across the US. One of them is now under construction in North Carolina, and Fisher is happy to step in where the government has not.

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