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.