May 4, 2008 – Concerned that the most talked-about injury of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is being overlooked, the Hospital for Special Care in New Britain has started offering free screenings to veterans for symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury.
The hospital has begun sending out thousands of mailings to veterans’ groups, physicians, colleges and churches, encouraging service members who were exposed to roadside blasts or other head trauma to get screened for TBI. The hospital screenings are offered by phone or over the Internet and direct veterans who report symptoms of TBI to seek further evaluation at the Veterans Administration hospital in West Haven.
“We’re not providing clinical services — the VA’s already here to do that,” said Dr. John Stanwood, chief of psychological services for the hospital. “But they can’t go out and advertise and do the kind of outreach we’re doing. … Our hope is to get every vet in the state who’s at risk of TBI to access services.”
The Hospital for Special Care is working with the West Haven VA to ensure that veterans referred for further evaluations will receive a prompt response from the VA’s polytrauma/TBI support clinic, Stanwood said. The hospital hopes to steer veterans who are reluctant to seek treatment from the VA, or who report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder — sometimes similar to symptoms of TBI — to other resources, such as a state-run program that provides referrals to a network of mental-health counselors.
Hospital President and CEO John Votto said the screening program grew out of concerns that some returning veterans “may be suffering potential long-term effects from mild traumatic brain injury and not even know it.” Symptoms of mild TBI include memory problems, headaches, dizziness, changes in vision and behavioral problems. The hospital also is offering an informational packet on TBI to veterans or their families who contact the screening program.
A recent study by the RAND Corporation estimated that close to one in five deployed service members — or about 320,000 nationwide — may have experienced a traumatic brain injury. But fewer than half reported ever being evaluated by a physician for that injury.
Neil Beesley, social work case manager for the West Haven VA’s polytrauma team, said the hospital welcomes the help in encouraging returning troops to seek evaluations.
“That’s part of the battle for us — we can only treat veterans if they come to us,” he said. “It’s terrific to know there are some community resources willing to help with the outreach.”
The West Haven VA, which provides a range of services for veterans with mild TBI, has expanded its own outreach efforts to returning veterans in the past year, adding a full-time patient advocate and program manager for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, Beesley said.
State veterans’ affairs Commissioner Linda Schwartz said she worries that some veterans with symptoms of TBI or PTSD are “staying away from the VA. It has to do with stigma and people not wanting to deal with the ‘Big Brother’ bureaucracy.”
Also, she noted, the VA did not put in place a screening protocol until last year to identify veterans who might have mild TBI.
“It’s quite obvious that many troops were not screened for this,” she said. “Anything we can do to reach them is a plus.”
For more information on the hospital’s screening program, veterans and their families can visit the hospital’s website — www.hfsc.org — or call 860-612-6310.