HomeNewsArticle Display

Air Force tackles Traumatic Brain Injury with early detection and holistic approach to treatment

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) can be difficult to detect with its typical lack of physical markers. Knowing the signs and symptoms of TBI is critical and ensures Airmen can return to duty. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) can be difficult to detect with its typical lack of physical markers. Knowing the signs and symptoms of TBI is critical and ensures Airmen can return to duty. (U.S. Air Force photo)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- With over 3,000 cases of traumatic brain injury on average per year, TBI continues to be a significant issue for Airmen and readiness. TBI is an invisible wound, meaning the lack of physical markers often makes it difficult to detect or for others to understand the severity. Understanding the symptoms of TBI is crucial for immediate evaluation and treatment and to ensure medical readiness with minimal downtime. The Air Force Medical Service continues to improve TBI care with the upcoming Invisible Wounds Center at Eglin Air Force Base.

“It is vital that we are able to recognize the signs of TBI not only in ourselves, but in other Airmen,” stresses Lt. Col. (Dr.) Jeffrey McClean, the TBI Consultant to the Air Force Surgeon General and neurologist at the 59th Medical Wing in San Antonio. “With early detection, Airmen are able to get help and return to duty.”

TBI occurs when someone experiences an injury to the brain as a result of an external force, which causes some change in brain function. The immediate changes can include loss or alteration of consciousness, confusion, or amnesia of the events immediately before or after the exposure.

“TBI can be categorized either as mild, moderate, or severe and can be a focused to a particular part of the brain or have widespread damage,” explains McClean. “Understanding the severity of a potential brain injury is critical to treatment.”

Fortunately, the vast majority of TBI cases are mild TBI, also known as concussion. Most patients with concussion can expect a complete recovery within days to weeks. Even among Airmen, these are usually sustained in non-combat settings like falls, accidents, sports injuries, or motor vehicle collisions.  

While most cases are mild, the key to a quick recovery with minimal impact on readiness is a proper diagnosis. The fact that TBI is an invisible wound could potentially delay a patient receiving the necessary evaluation and treatment.

“The biggest issue, especially in military culture, is the belief by some that they should just tough it out and not seek care or evaluation after a head injury,” said Mcclean. “There may also be a fear of the potentially negative impact on an Airman’s career.”

In reality, the vast majority of service members with mild TBI, especially with prompt and appropriate care, can return to full duty within 7-10 days after sustaining the injury. If someone does not seek care, they might be performing activities or exposing themselves to risks that could ultimately lead to another concussion or unnecessarily prolong the symptoms. This delay in care could negatively impact their readiness and their ability to complete their jobs.

“This is why it is critical that we work on addressing this issue and ensure that all processes, policies, and providers are operating from a patient-centered approach to care,” said Michelle Padgett, Chief for the Air Force Invisible Wounds of War Policy.

The Air Force is currently working to open an Invisible Wounds Clinic within the next year, which will be located at Eglin Air Force Base. The clinic will focus on a holistic approach to TBI and Invisible Wounds care.

“We know that integrative pain management is an essential part of our treatment approach and have included this in our planning for the center at Eglin,” explains Padgett.

Part of the integrative and holistic approach is looking at TBI and post-traumatic stress disorder together. The combined efforts ensure that patients are receiving optimal care and a more effective treatment plan is being administered.

“It is not uncommon that an injury or particular traumatic event may cause both a TBI as well as PTSD,” explained McClean. “Often their symptoms overlap and in order to ensure the best outcome for patients, it is best to consider treatment options for both of these diagnoses together.”

In addition to providing quality care, the Invisible Wounds Center will offer advanced concussion care research, and multidisciplinary diagnostic and rehabilitation treatment. The goal is to provide the best patient-centered care for all invisible wounds.

“We are very good at training for the enemy, but not necessarily the enemy from within,” explains Padgett. “Increasing the focus on symptoms and healthy coping strategies will improve an Airman’s ability to access, seek, and receive care early so they can continue serving.”

Twitter
@GenCQBrownJr Thank you for following us sir! We look forward to meeting in the not-too-distant future.
Twitter
Happy Monday @usairforce! Be sure to tune in to the #AFW2Socials planned for this week and stay #connected with us.… https://t.co/4pNi5zd3Ym
Twitter
#HappeningNow the first ever AFW2 Fit Games is on full effect! 💪 Tune in and witness our #Warriors take on this aw… https://t.co/uSGLBql0rm
Twitter
Happy 73rd Birthday to the world's greatest @usairforce! Our team stands proud to be serving our #Airmen and thei… https://t.co/ydcm2cFezL
Twitter
Our #AFW2 team had the great opportunity to speak with @cmsaf_official during the 2020 @AirForceAssoc Virtual Air,… https://t.co/loFoReyEio
Twitter
This #warriorwednesday we recognize retired Senior Master Sgt. Cornelius Twohig. He joined the Air Force in 1976, s… https://t.co/fDb4UOuils
Twitter
The @AirForceAssoc virtual Air, Space and Cyber Conference is happening now and #AFW2 has a virtual exhibitor booth… https://t.co/j1gR8O0fKk
Twitter
#HappeningNow SMSgt Benjamin Seekell shares his perspective as a first sergeant on how a unit copes with the loss o… https://t.co/CXuqTIItd1
Twitter
Don't forget to tune in to the #AFW2Socials planned for this week @usairforce ! We're keeping the conversation goin… https://t.co/4CbSlSD6UW
Twitter
We will #NeverForget the tragic events that took place 19 years ago that changed the lives of every American. Take… https://t.co/RBTQZeJKMY
Twitter
#AFW2_warriorwednesday Tech Sgt. (ret.) Joshua Arnett joined the @usairforce in 2004 as a Power Production Speciali… https://t.co/N2tEwjCfcK
Twitter
Powerful testimony on #Suicide Awareness and Prevention. Take the time to listen and #BeThere . https://t.co/3mdLBUFNbC
Twitter
This week has given our #Warriors and #Caregivers a new motto to live by and move forward in their #recovery! What… https://t.co/fnzI1RrtoV
Twitter
#DidYouKnow our AFW2 Caregiver Program equips #Caregivers with the tools and resources they need to allow them "me"… https://t.co/03NwZYs08f
Twitter
#Teamwork is what drives our #Warriors and #Caregivers to success and is something our #AFW2 team embodies each and… https://t.co/uohpbgENHo
Twitter
We are rounding out our last day of the AFW2 #VirtualCareWeek and what a week it has been! Our #Warriors and… https://t.co/wFGqM6SfVB
Twitter
#HappeningNow We are showcasing our first ever #virtual Care Fair where various service organizations will be tunin… https://t.co/0m4AaAAf9t
Twitter
Our #Warriors are learning that there are many ways to stay #active and maintain their physical and mental well-bei… https://t.co/UBWlxLpAUS
Twitter
#Connecting with others is what our #VirtualCareWeek is all about! Our #AFW2 team continues to exemplify what it tr… https://t.co/WOMcmJiJJB
Twitter
We've had so many first time #VirtualCareWeek attendees! Our #Warriors and #Caregivers are really embracing the con… https://t.co/ky7AKs9020
Twitter
5,536
Follow Us