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Brain injuries plague Carson GIs
Denver Post
By Erin Emery Denver Post Staff Writer
April 11, 2007

Fort Carson - Nearly two in 10 soldiers who have returned to Fort Carson from Iraq in the past two years have suffered a traumatic brain injury, according to an ongoing study by medical experts at the base.

Since June 2005, 13,400 soldiers in three brigades have been screened for TBI. Fort Carson has found that 178 of every 1,000 soldiers screened had a traumatic brain injury.

Most of those cases are considered relatively mild, caused by sudden acceleration or deceleration of the head from events such as a blast or car crash, and soldiers are cleared to return to duty. But 13 percent of those diagnosed with TBI - or about 300 soldiers - were deemed "non deployable" for future missions.

It is unknown how many soldiers suffered a traumatic brain injury before 2005. An estimated 2 million Americans suffer a form of TBI each year, most the result of accidents, according to a study published in Psychiatric Times.

"A majority of patients that return to us will have symptoms of either headache, memory loss, irritability, difficulty sleeping, and those symptoms change from when the inciting event occurs to when the soldier returns," said Dr. John Cho, commander of Fort Carson's Evans Army Community Hospital.

TBI is considered the "signature wound" of the Iraq war. Better body armor and Kevlar have kept alive soldiers who might have died in earlier wars. But exposure to multiple blasts and rattling of the brain inside the skull have caused the hidden injuries.

Fort Carson doctors define TBI the same way as the American Congress of Rehabilitative Medicine: A patient has had an injury that resulted in an alteration - but not necessarily a loss - in consciousness. A soldier who reported being dazed or disoriented after a crash or near a bomb blast might be diagnosed with TBI.

Cho said doctors diagnose soldiers by studying their symptoms because no tool, such as a CAT scan or an MRI, can be used to identify physical damage on the brain.

"There are no markers," he said. "We treat the symptoms. We do not understand the basic pathophysiology behind mild traumatic brain injury. We do not understand it at a molecular level. It is much like a cold. We don't have a cure for the common cold, but we treat the symptoms."

Doctors prescribe medicine for headaches and sleep disorders and advise soldiers to do mind therapy, which can be anything from playing cribbage or the guitar to exercising the brain.

"Your brain is a use-it-or- lose-it organ," said Kathy Scally, an adult nurse practitioner who coordinates screening for TBI on the post. "You either keep it working or you're going to lose some function."

Capt. Matthew Staton, 30, who was shot in the upper thigh and hip area and exposed to multiple bomb blasts while fighting in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, was diagnosed with TBI after returning to Fort Carson.

Staton is in the process of being medically discharged from the Army for a combination of injuries, including TBI, post- traumatic stress disorder and complications from gunshot wounds. He has severe short- term memory loss.

"TBI - this is not a quick fix," Staton said.

"With therapy and everything, this takes somewhere between three to five years to recover if you can recover to where you were at before the injury."

Staff writer Erin Emery can be reached at 719-522-1360 or

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