FORT CARSON – The Army, faced with thousands of cases of brain injury from the Iraq war, soon will begin testing brain scanning equipment in hopes of finding a more accurate way to identify hard-to-diagnose wounds, the commander of the post hospital said Tuesday.
The Army has not extensively used neuroimaging equipment to detect brain injuries in returning soldiers because not enough testing has been done to judge the technology’s effectiveness.
But Fort Carson soon will test a brain scan procedure that uses gamma rays along with radioisotopes, said Col. John Cho, commander of the Evans Army Community Hospital at Fort Carson. The tests will be conducted on Fort Carson units returning from Iraq, he said.
The move comes as an interagency task force, headed by Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson, released a report Monday saying injured soldiers and veterans will get more screenings for brain injury.
It also comes after a recent study at Fort Carson found that 18 percent of troops who had been to Iraq – 2,392 of 13,400 – suffered at least some brain damage from the blasts of improvised explosive devices.
Currently, doctors often must rely on questioning soldiers to determine if they’ve suffered brain damage. Cho said that isn’t good enough: Many injured show no symptoms, and some symptoms can mirror other conditions.
“How do you determine that someone has actually had a traumatic brain injury other than asking the soldier?” Cho said Monday.
Such verbal tests are subject to failure for many reasons: The soldier may not remember, may withhold information to avoid being discharged or may not yet feel the effects of injury.
Stephen Robinson, of Veterans for America, an organization that has accused the Army of discharging soldiers with brain damage while determining they have personality disorders, was pleased with the announcement.
“After two years of us complaining, they are going to do something,” Robinson said.
Lt. Col. Reed Smith, head of nuclear medicine at the Evans hospital, said his staff will receive a new scanning camera known as a SPECT (single photo emission computerized tomography) within two weeks.
Fort Carson will use soldiers who have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury to test the technology and rate its effectiveness, Cho said. Results will be delivered to an Army review board.
“We feel that we can move forward on behalf of the Army and for soldiers faster than other places,” Cho said. “Hopefully it will identify a marker that can help diagnose brain damage.”
“Obviously this is potentially a very positive thing. They are taking head injuries seriously. They are looking for a technology that will detect it,” said Dr. P. Stephen Macedo, a Washington, D.C.- based neurologist and former doctor with the Department of Veterans Affairs.