Trauma Begets Trauma?

Mar 22 2012 @ 7:23pm

Last week, in response to the US soldier who slaughtered 16 Afghan civilians, Katie Drummond grappled with the hazy connection between violence and traumatic brain injuries (TBI):

One report followed 850 young civilian adults over eight years, and found that those who’d suffered a TBI "reported more interpersonal violence" than their peers. Another, out of Sweden, tracked over 20,000 people for 35 years. That one, published earlier this year, noted that 9 percent of all TBI-afflicted study participants were implicated in a violent crime at some point after sustaining the injury. By comparison, only 3 percent of those without a brain injury ever committed a violent crime. The researchers concluded that TBI "significantly increased [the] risk" that an individual would behave violently. 

Meanwhile, the military's framework for addressing TBI is severely flawed

Traumatic brain injuries are so common among today’s troops that the military has spent over $42 million for a test to detect them, a test that [Staff Sergeant Robert]  Bales most likely took before his final deployment to Afghanistan. … Soldiers are meant to take the test twice – once before deployment and then again after a suspected head injury. Soldiers must answer a series of questions that score basic thinking abilities such as reaction time, short-term memory and learning speed. In theory, the initial test serves as a baseline to compare the results of the second test; a discrepancy signals a possible injury and the need for more evaluation. 

But the test – which a former Army surgeon general has called no better than a "coin flip"– is rarely implemented that way. The Army was so unconvinced of the test’s accuracy that it issued an order not to send soldiers with a troublesome score for further medical evaluation.