07 January 2011

TBI/PTSD Study Involving Red Bull Soldiers Published

The American Forces Press Service reports that the January 2011 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry--a journal of the American Medical Association (A.M.A.)--presents a study of Traumatic Brain Injury (T.B.I.) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.). Participants included more than 900 soldiers of 1st Brigade, 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (1-34th BCT), which deployed to Iraq in 2005-2007.

That deployment included Iowa National Guard's 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment (1/133rd Inf.) and Nebraska's 1st Squadron, 134th Cavalry Regiment (1/134th Cav.). Both units are currently deployed to Afghanistan along with the 34th Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (2-34th BCT).

The study was sponsored by the U.S. Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. Soldiers were questioned approximately one month prior to leaving Iraq (part of the Iraq "surge" strategy, the 1-34th BCT deployment was extended to an Army-record-breaking 16-months in-country), and again via written questionnaire one year after returning to the United States.

To the surprise of those conducting the study, the research indicated little long-term effect from "mild" TBI--injuries that cause a person to be momentarily dazed or unconscious for less than 20 minutes, and that cause no physical injury to brain or skull. Such injuries can result from roadside bombs and other attacks.

"There's been a lot of attention paid to PTSD and mild TBI and even suicide risk, but the prevalence of problem drinking appears to be much higher among returning service members than any of these other problems," said Melissa A. Polusny, a clinical psychologist at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System and a professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School. The brigade surgeon Col. (Dr.) Michael Rath also collaborated in the research.

For Polusny, the study points to a need to carefully screen for PTSD, so that that soldiers and healthcare providers correctly match treatment and injury. "If a veteran is having irritability and memory problems, and assumes he had a concussion when maybe he is suffering from PTSD symptoms ... " she said, "we need to make sure we are treating veterans for the right problems."

The study did not address long-term effects from repeated head trauma, which other studies may have linked to PTSD. The study did not investigate the causes of PTSD, or whether TBI is the trigger for PTSD.

Other findings:
  • More soldiers reported PTSD symptoms at home (14 percent) than in Iraq (9 percent).
  • More soldiers reported concussions or TBI at home (22 percent) than in Iraq (9 percent).
  • Many citizen-soldiers who answered they did not have mild TBI or PTSD symptoms actually did, with 64 percent reporting distractibility and irritability; 60 percent reporting memory problems; 57 percent reporting ringing in the ears; and 23 percent reporting balance problems.

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