Written by Lt. Michael J. Doria, Neuropsychologist, Ph.D., U.S. Coast Guard Reserve.
March is designated National Brain Injury Awareness Month. According to the Brain Injury Association of America and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.7 million people in the United States sustain a traumatic brain injury every year, with traumatic brain injury being a contributing factor to a third – or 30.5 percent – of all injury-related deaths in the United States.
A traumatic brain injury, known as TBI, is a blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the function of the brain. Concussions, also called closed head injuries, are a type of TBI. Not all blows or jolts to the head result in a TBI. Most TBIs that occur are mild TBI and affect both civilians and servicemembers.
When someone sustains a TBI, the entire family is affected. Caregivers of people who have suffered a TBI experience feelings of burden, distress, anxiety, anger and depression. If you are caring for a partner, spouse, child, relative or close friend with TBI, it is important to recognize how stressful this situation can be. Seeking help is key!
The National Center on Care Giving states that “some services most helpful [to caregivers] include in-home assistance, respite care to provide breaks from care giving, brain injury support groups, and ongoing or short-term counseling for caregivers to adjust to the life changes. Caregivers may also need to ask their support system of family, friends and community members for help, so they [avoid getting] burned out.”
A key resource for individuals with TBI and their caregivers in the military community is the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. The center’s national director, Col. Jamie B. Grimes, stated, “DVBIC was created in 1992 by Congress. Today, DVBIC has eighteen sites around the world working with brain injured patients from each branch of the armed services. This joint effort allows us to use the experts in every area of TBI, research, treatment, and clinical care so we can offer the best and most up-to-date care and technology to our wounded warriors.”
Despite having a smaller footprint than the other military services, the Coast Guard is faced with similar head injuries whether on the battlefield, in garrison or on any deployment mission. These injuries can occur to anyone at anytime.
In an effort to make servicemembers aware of TBI, all Coast Guard healthcare providers are required to receive training on TBI and concussion management. Rear Adm. Maura Dollymore, director of health, safety and work-life, emphasized, “We must ensure all Coast Guard personnel, especially our healthcare providers, understand the importance of proper concussion management. This plan is a comprehensive, inter-disciplinary approach focusing on education/prevention, training, treatment, and tracking of concussion in the Coast Guard and promoting total health across the force. The foundation of the Coast Guard’s PH-TBI Program focuses on patient-centered care which will help to ensure the best clinical outcomes for our personnel. Implementation of the Coast Guard PH-TBI Program will help to reduce the impacts of concussion and improve the health and well-being of our Coast Guard force. ”
In recognition of Brain Injury Awareness Month, the Department of Defense and the Coast Guard have taking steps to increase awareness about TBIs, including prevention, diagnosis and treatment, while reducing the stigma for persons who seek care.