U.S. troops suffered Traumatic Brain Injury in Iranian attack: What is TBI?

Ryan Larkin, former Navy SEAL, who suffered Traumatic Brain Injury

The Trump administration has announced 50 U.S. troops have been diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury or TBI after Iran’s missile attack in Iraq January 8.

Most have returned to duty, according to a Pentagon spokesman. At least 18 are being evaluated further.

Experts say there could be a long road ahead for the troops with TBI even if they can, for the moment, continue serving.

From my report on TBI for “Full Measure”:

Frank Larkin: Ryan was a sniper, so he fired high caliber sniper weapons. The 50-caliber category use an awful lot of pressure. Exposure to IEDs of which the battlefield was littered with IEDs. There’s a variety of sources that can cause concussive effects that ultimately could result in damage.

Because the damage is invisible on regular MRI scans, doctors long lumped the mysterious suffering of brain-injured troops under the catchall of “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” But a sea change began in 2011.

Sharyl: What new do you know today since 2011 about this?

Dr. David Brody: Probably more has been discovered from 2010 to today than in the entire history of science before 2010, because there’s been so much interest and attention focused on this problem.

Neurologist David Brody heads up Traumatic Brain Injury research at the Uniformed Services University. He helped lead a landmark study in 2011.

Brody: Before that, Traumatic Brain Injury, a concussion, was something you just shrugged off. “Are you hurt? Are you injured?” You just got back up and went back at, both in sports and the military, and in real life. We recognized around that time that there were real serious consequences of concussive traumatic brain injury that there was a lot more injury than people had previously recognized.

Sharyl: Dr. Brody and his team were first to use a new MRI technique called “diffuser tenser imaging” on soldiers. That allowed them to examine axons, the most vulnerable part of the brain, where long wires transmit information like celery stalks move water.

Dr. Brody: But after injury, the brain’s axons become like celery soup. Same color as celery, smells like celery, but now water diffuses in all directions. We can use diffuser tenser imaging to detect the difference between celery and celery soup in the brain.

The results were shocking. Brains that looked normal on regular MRI scans were obviously damaged when imaged using the new technique. Dr. Brody found abnormalities in nearly one third of the soldiers who’d been injured in blasts.

Sharyl: How many men and women in the military do you think are subjected to this potential type of injury, whether they’re in the training or they’re actually out in the field being exposed to this?

Brody: The official numbers are that there’s about 375,000 U.S. military service members that have had traumatic brain injury from 2001 until the present. We think the real numbers may be substantially higher than that. It’s probably maybe twice that many.

Sharyl: What percentage is that of the military?

Dr. Brody: Some estimates are that between 10 and 20% of deployed military service members have a brain injury during their deployment.

Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson

The report below is about another soldier who returned to the U.S. with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and other medical problems, but was unable to get the help he needed from the Veterans Administration in 2009.

Fatal Flaws

For more on TBI, watch the full reports on Full Measure. Click the links below about “Ryan’s Story.”

Ryan’s story. Part One.

Ryan’s story, Part Two.

Ryan Larkin, former Navy SEAL, who suffered a severe case of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Read more about injuries from the Iranian attack by clicking the link below from the Military Times.


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