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52 percent of U.S. Soldiers Wounded in Iraq, Afghanistan Diagnosed with TBI

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WASHINGTON -- Some 52 percent of soldiers severely injured in Iraq and Afghanistan who have come to the U.S. Army's largest hospital for treatment have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries (TBI), an internal study has found.

The results of the study, carried out by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, also showed a steep increase -- from 33 percent -- in TBI cases since the end of 2008.

Diagnoses of TBI are rising steadily as arrangements for TBI checks improve, while at the same time improvised explosive device (IED) attacks -- the primary cause of TBI -- in Afghanistan are intensifying, with 46 U.S. soldiers killed by the homemade bombs so far this year. Casualties from these attacks flow into Walter Reed, which provides treatment to badly wounded soldiers unavailable anywhere else.

According to DVBIC at Walter Reed, since January 2003 -- just before the beginning of the Iraq War -- 52 percent of soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan by bombs and treated at the hospital have been diagnosed with TBI. According to figures uncovered by the Mainichi, this would mean the number of diagnosed TBI cases has risen to well over 10,000 since the end of 2008, when the figure stood around 9,100. Furthermore, in more than 90 percent of those diagnosed with TBI, the patient had no visible head injuries.

On the battlefield, TBI is caused by the supersonic shockwave produced by an explosion -- often from an IED -- which damages or destroys brain cells. A soldier caught in the blast may not even know he or she has been injured.

The U.S. Department of Defense began conducting cognitive ability tests on all military personnel to be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan in November 2007. The servicemen and women who took the tests began returning from their combat tours early this year, allowing for greater chances of discovering a TBI and probably leading to the increased numbers of diagnosed cases.

The Department of Defense estimated in March this year that the final tally of TBI cases would reach 10 to 20 percent of all personnel deployed to Iraqi and Afghani battlefields.