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
In @usairforce Col Michael Flatten's parting message as Director of #AFW2 he wants all #WoundedWarriors to know tha… https://t.co/qlEIjS8IRp
Twitter
Many of our #Warriors rely on sports to be an essential part of their #Recovery. Join our #AFW2Social! This morning… https://t.co/xQM6zI3gXA
Twitter
Don't forget to tune into the #AFW2Socials we have planned this week! Invite your #wingmen, have your questions rea… https://t.co/cVTzF2l8bl
Twitter
Coping with Stress During Uncertain Times? Don't miss this special Monday AFW2 Live Resiliency Social on Facebook w… https://t.co/lcwQGBxqxL
Twitter
#AFW2_warriorwednesday Staff Sgt. Matthew Amick joined the #AirForce in 2009 and serves as a missile facility manag… https://t.co/uU9UkTmMWj
Twitter
The @USMC are lead planners for the 2020 @warriorgames and made the decision to cancel the games due to safety and… https://t.co/IIClisu1yn
Twitter
Don't forget to tune into the #AFW2Socials we have planned this week! Invite your #wingmen, have your questions rea… https://t.co/h3cPGjd6LD
Twitter
Happy Armed Forces Day to all service heroes for their patriotic commitment to this great Nation. Today we recogniz… https://t.co/04rvSEGq3V
Twitter
May is Mental Health Awareness month and this year it comes during a time of uncertainty and physical distancing th… https://t.co/ili23ToAKa
Twitter
Check out our #AFW2social featuring Master Sgt. Mike Meyers. https://t.co/WQadv8IwWF
Twitter
Check us out live on our main #AFW2 page for an #AFW2social featuring federal resume writing. https://t.co/JT1qLjg0Gj
Twitter
Check us out on Facebook. We're LIVE right now. https://t.co/YoBqc56cNi
Twitter
#AFW2 is going to be there with @cmsaf18. Are YOU? https://t.co/JCZfX4sqOZ
Twitter
Check us out LIVE tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. CDT for an #AFW2social on Federal Resume Writing. https://t.co/JqhpIDwfCj
Twitter
RT @cmsaf18: Team, please join @GenDaveGoldfein and I, April 6 at 3:30 pm EST, as we host a #COVIDー19 virtual town hall on the @usairforce
Twitter
Hey #warriors and #caregivers...you’re in for a special treat! @USAFReserve Tech. Sgt. Johnny Holliday will be pu… https://t.co/iGxlOfkCYG
Twitter
https://t.co/dlythfRfch A discussion on how warriors can remain positive, resilient, and social during this time of… https://t.co/Fh6SDWoyVo
Twitter
Hey #warriors! Who has had to change their daily routine to ensure everyone remains healthy and safe? What about th… https://t.co/PbLHX4Qemm
Twitter
#AFW2_warriorwednesday Senior Airman Richard Hernandez joined the @usairforce in 2016 and is stationed at… https://t.co/XZUVSZvUh9
Twitter
Good morning, #warriors! Have you checked out the latest episode of AFW2: Blue & Beyond? This week, we’re diving… https://t.co/egKGa4SBJA
Twitter
5,491
Follow Us