October 23, 2008 – About 1.7 million American men and women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military studies show that up to 340,000 of them suffer from mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). The injury most often happens as a result of roadside bombs, rocket-propelled grenades or mortars.
A TBI typically occurs when the head suddenly and violently hits an object or when an object pierces the skull and enters the brain. A person with a TBI may remain conscious or may experience a loss of consciousness for a few seconds or minutes.
Symptoms may include headache, confusion, lightheadedness, dizziness, blurred vision or tired eyes, ringing in the ears, a bad taste in the mouth, fatigue, a change in sleep patterns, behavioral or mood changes, and trouble with memory or concentration. Little can be done to reverse the initial brain damage caused by the trauma.
Military studies show that up to 340,000 of war veterans suffer from mild traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Preliminary studies reveal that as many as 70 percent of severely-wounded soldiers treated for TBIs also complain of double vision, difficulties reading and blindness. In another small study, conducted by Glenn Cockerham, chief of ophthalmology at the VA Palo Alto, 26 percent of soldiers who had been injured in blasts had severe visual impairment, including blindness.
“They may go months seemingly normal with headaches and all a sudden, bam, they have lost their vision,” Bill Wilson, a Blind Rehabilitation Specialist at the Orlando VA Medical Center in Orlando, Fla., told Ivanhoe.
No one knows exactly how many of veterans may eventually be blind or will have to deal with other vision problems, but research suggests it could be thousands.
Researchers believe certain parts of the brain, such as the occipital lobe, which controls vision, take a pounding from blast shock waves. This, in turn, can impair vision.
Sgt. David Kinney is one veteran who has lost his eyesight. He was one of the first American soldiers to go into Iraq. Now, he is considered legally blind. At first, Kinney’s doctors thought he’d had a stroke.
Later, he learned he had suffered a mild TBI, and an Orlando neurologist eventually linked his condition to his exposure to bombs. Now, Kinney cannot drive, and relatives must take him to his eight monthly doctor appointments.
This year, the Veterans Health Administration is spending $40 million to add 55 outpatient vision-rehabilitation clinics nationwide and to increase staff at existing facilities.
For more information
Barry Stanley, Public Relations
Orlando VA Medical Center