The global war on terror has already yielded more than ten thousand traumatic brain injuries (TBI) to American troops. There is no sign of the rate slowing down. The Air Force Theater Hospital (AFTH) at Balad Air Base in Balad, Iraq has the unique and undesirable honor of being the brain injury capital of the world.
In his book, Head Cases, Stories of Brain Injury And Its Aftermath, Micheal Paul Mason writes:
Should a brain injury befall you in America, you stand a 71% chance of being alive one month after your ER visit. If a brain injury occurs anywhere in Iraq and you’re medevaced to Balad, your chances of survival skyrocket to 98%, the highest rate of survival for any trauma hospital in history. Balad hospital proves that we are no longer asking most soldiers to die in service; we are asking them to accept a lifetime of severe disability.
According to a report by NBC, 68% of the returning wounded have brain injuries. Because of the body armor worn by troops now, more people are surviving war injuries than ever before. However, portions of the skull and face are not protected resulting in moderate to severe injuries of the head. Brain injuries are common just from the force of explosive blasts even when no external injury is present.
In America, every 15 seconds, someone suffers a TBI. There are about 1,500,000 new brain injuries each year, and it is the leading cause of death in Americans under the age of 45. That is three times as many deaths resulting from brain injuries each year than result from AIDS in the U.S. There are more TBIs each year than new cases of all types of cancer combined. (Cancer does tend to be more lethal.) TBI is often referred to as a “silent epidemic.” I mean no disrespect, but I wonder why we don’t see any metallic ribbons stuck on cars for TBI. Why are there no ribbons for TBI printed on yogurt lids?
It is also an invisible wound. I know that I often wished I had a big bandage on my head because, although I was far from normal, I looked it. Brain injuries vary widely and are unique. Brain injured persons slip through the cracks in the medical and insurance systems. Oftentimes, the initial physical emergency is covered by insurance, but the necessary, follow-up rehabilitation is not unless there is a diagnosible condition other than the brain injury. Many people are mistakenly diagnosed with psychological problems or even intentionally in order to get some rehabilitation services.
While a monetary value cannot be put on the emotional and physical costs that arise as a result of a brain injury, the monetary expenditure required to treat a brain injury varies significantly. Treatment for a brain injury is very expensive and can be required for a limited duration or years or a lifetime. It’s estimated that, on average, a mild injury can cost $85,000, a moderate injury $941,000, and a severe injury around $3 million or more. The National Institute of Health estimates that brain injuries cost the nation 48 billion dollars per year.
Because the brain is the essence of a person, an injured brain changes a person at their core and effects everything – their relationships, their reality, and their dreams. A brain injury can alter a persons ability to learn, to go to work, to be in a marriage, to parent, and just about every other aspect of life.
Chances are that, in your life time, your life will be personally touched by a brain injury.