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Traumatic Brain Injuries: Marines, Helmets and the War in Iraq

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The medical director of polytrauma at McGuire Veterans Medical Center said, “Traumatic brain injury is the signature injury of [the Iraq] war.” Roughly 62% of the troops injured in Iraq suffer a traumatic brain injury (TBI). TBI’s occur when the head is unexpectedly and forcibly hit with an object. In severe cases, the object pierces the skull and enters the brain tissue. Depending the object’s impact on the skull, TBI sufferers may experience a variety of symptoms. Symptoms include headache, blurred vision, fatigue, behavioral changes, convulsions and/or seizures, slurred speech, and loss of coordination.

More and more American troops are suffering TBI’s because of insurgents’ use of improvised explosive devises (IED). IED’s are bombs made out of lethal, noxious chemicals that are designed to destroy or injure enemy personnel or vehicles. The insurgents of the current Iraq War have made IED’s, also referred to as roadside bombs, one of their main weapons against coalition forces.

The large number of TBI’s in American troops and the increased use of IED’s in the war in Iraq has caused many doctors to look at the standard helmets issued to the troops. Prior to 2003, army doctors determined that the issued helmets did not provide enough protection against TBI’s because they were not padded well enough. When there is not enough padding injuries such as mild concussions are more likely to occur. Mild concussions often go undetected and several undiagnosed instances of mild TBI’s puts an individual at risk for permanent brain damage. Since 2003, the army has issued new helmets that provide better protection against TBI’s by using more padding. In 2006, the Marines followed suit.