Brain injuries in the army – proper diagnosis at the outset is key and this is where the MoD is failing says Hilary Meredith

The Sunday People has revealed that thousands of British soldiers could be suffering from untreated brain injuries after being blown up while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

US defence chiefs believe that up to 20 per cent of all troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan could have a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

America’s Defence and Veterans Brain Injury Centre has reported that more than 400,000 troops have suffered it since 2000.

By comparison, the MoD says that only 737 troops have been diagnosed with TBI after serving in the same wars.

Around 180,000 British troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 17 years and many did multiple tours.

A brain injury summit held at the Centre for Blast Injury Studies at Imperial College in London in January was attended by international experts and members of the armed forces medical services.

A draft report seen by the Sunday People concluded there is an “urgent operational need to address the issues arising out of large numbers of military personnel and veterans with symptoms of blast traumatic brain injuries”.

Commenting on the revelations, Hilary Meredith, Chair of Hilary Meredith Solicitors and Visiting Professor of Law and Veterans’ Affairs at the University of Chester said:

“We have known for over 30 years that the military, whilst unbelievably good at patching up life threatening injuries in the field, often miss the more serious brain injuries.

“Studies carried out by Imperial College London, supported by the Royal British Legion rather the government, have shown the extent of injuries caused by IEDs.

“The blast and the shock wave that follows impacts on the human body by ripping flesh from the bone. The immediate, life-threatening injury is amputation of limbs and the risk of bleeding out on the battle field.

“Prior to around 2005, the British military relied on calling in a US helicopter to medevac injured from the battlefield. The US priority was to treat and recover injured US service personnel, with the result that often British personnel didn’t survive their injuries. 
“We now have our own dedicated medivac helicopter equipped with a trauma team who can ‘scoop and run’ the injured and treat them during the flight.”

Hilary agrees that thousands of service personnel could be suffering from undetected brain injuries.

She continued:

“In Afghanistan for example, a scanner was used on immediate incoming patients to detect internal injuries to organs but crucially this did not scan the head or brain.

“Life threatening injuries such as amputations were treated immediately but with often no visible trauma to the face or head, ‘hidden’ injuries went undetected.
“The explosive energy generated by a blast, causes severe pressure in the skull, so in addition to visible external shrapnel wounds, initially unseen injury such as deafness, and brain damage are caused. The brain is compressed, brain tissue is torn and the brain thrown around inside the skull, impacting forcefully the cranium.
“We have acted for many such service personnel and there is a fine line between a diagnosis of PTSD and a brain injury with no visible trauma to the head or face. The only way to truly detect this is with sophisticated brain scans to identify subtle changes within the brain. We have this technology in the UK.”

Added Hilary:

“Treating a brain injury is very different to treating PTSD. The right rehabilitation can secure life-changing results.

“In one particular case in which I acted, our client, who was injured in a road traffic accident and classed as in a permanent vegetative state, eventually sat up, walked, talked and lived independently of her parents with the help of carers after 5 years of rehabilitation, including cognitive therapy.

“Amazing results can be achieved – but a correct proper diagnosis at the outset is absolutely key and this is where the MoD is failing.”