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You Think the NFL Has Brain Injury Problems? The Military Has it Way Worse

Thousands of soldiers return home from cobalt with traumatic brain injuries - many without even realizing it

smithsonian.com

In the past few years, it’s become clear that the NFL has a problem with brain injury. Repeated, low level head trauma can cause serious long term side effects on players, and the league has committed research money to figure out how bad those side effects are and what can be done to avoid them. But for all you hear about the football players, the largest group of people dealing with traumatic head injury—soldiers—often goes unnoticed.

60 Minutes recently ran a piece about the thousands of soldiers who return home from combat with traumatic brain injuries. Many don’t even recognize what exactly they’re suffering from:

Last year, the Department of Veteran Affairs proposed new regulations to help veterans get health care and compensation for those injuries—problems like Parkinsonism, seizures, dementias, depression and hormone deficiencies. The New York Times reports:

Since 2000, more than 250,000 service members — some still on active duty — have received diagnoses of traumatic brain injury, or T.B.I., according to the Defense Department. Though T.B.I. is commonly viewed as resulting from blast exposure, the vast majority of those injuries were diagnosed in nondeployed troops who were involved in vehicle crashes, training accidents or sports injuries.

The organization American Veterans with Brain Injuries (AVBI) was founded in 2004 to address the growing numbers of veterans returning with these brain injuries. They put together this slide show to give a face to the thousands of veterans dealing with the side effects:

In the 60 Minutes piece, veterans explain why these brain injuries are so subtly terrible. One soldier told reporters, “If I could trade traumatic brain injury for a single-leg amputation I’d probably do that in a second.” The military is so used to treating visible wounds, the 60 Minutes story argues, that it forgets about the ones it can’t see. “In the military, concussion was an invisible — and therefore neglected — wound.”

Since the military wasn’t dealing with it, Arnold Fisher, a long time patron of the military, decided to create a foundation for these veterans called Make it Visible. They build health centers for veterans around the country. “People say to me the government should be doing this. Yeah, the government should be doing this, but they’re not. So we do it,” he told 60 Minutes.

More from Smithsonian.com:

American Football Players Aren’t the Only Ones With Head Injury Issues
How Dangerous Is Hitting Another Human Being With Your Head?

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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