Invisible Injuries Getting Second Look

Several years ago, a VA physician taught me about invisible injuries.” His experience started when he was teaching wounded warriors how to put on prosthetic devices to replace their missing limbs. But many had trouble remembering his instructions from one day to the next.

A closer look uncovered Traumatic Brain Injuries or TBI. The wounded warrior had no physical head wounds, but the impact of the explosive device that took their limbs also jarred their brains.

There are thousands of military members who survived an explosive device with no outward wounds. Their “invisible wounds” or brain injuries got little or no attention and were rarely considered a “wound” worthy of a Purple Heart.

A recent Air Force Times article, posted March 26, 2011, reports that attitudes may be changing. Below is a portion of that story, the full article can be read here.

Air Force Times

The services are engaged in a long overdue effort to clarify rules for the Purple Heart, one of the military’s most coveted medals.

All four branches are studying an Army-led push to declare that troops who suffer concussions as a result of combat actions are entitled to a Purple Heart.

That means, for example, that soldiers in a vehicle that hits a bomb buried in the road qualify if they suffer a concussion.

In theory, the rules already allow for that. But in practice, it’s clear that few such head injuries have earned wounded service members a Purple Heart…

…. This is not just about hanging a ribbon on troops. Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli hopes that giving Purple Hearts for invisible injuries will help remove the stigma that often keeps troops from seeking the medical help they need to recover from concussions as well as post-traumatic stress — injuries that too often have been mistaken by commanders as signs of malingering or poor attitude.

If he’s right, perhaps these awards will result in something even more meaningful: helping to reduce the number of suicides, divorces and domestic violence incidents that plague troops coming home from the war zones.

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