by Carol L Henricks, MD
It is Suicide Awareness Month and it is time to connect the dots and understand why the suicide rate is so high among our active duty military and military veterans. It is a consequence of the brain – blast injury (a form of TBI) they have sustained! Dr. Duncan, COO of Patriot Clinics, Inc. states that “Not since World War I have service members in a war theater been exposed to the level of blast injury that US service members have experienced in recent wars. “
A blast – brain injury has 2 mechanisms of injury to the brain: the concussive force of the blast and the decompression injury. You don’t need to hit your head or lose consciousness to be injured. Even one concussion brain injury is associated with an increased risk of depression and suicide – but military members are typically exposed to blast after blast after blast. Most of the military veterans I have seen in my office don’t even “count” the more distant blasts they experienced or view repeated blasts experienced in a single day as separate events. Every blast creates injury and the sooner after one injury you are exposed to more injury the worse the cumulative injury.
Blast – brain injury injures the whole brain. On a pathological level, the decompression injury causes ischemic lesions (like tiny strokes) all throughout the brain. When this occurs in an elderly person they are clinically diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia. The axonal shear component of injury is also a diffuse injury and disconnects the networks in the brain. The networks that perform basic processes such as the cycling between wakefulness and sleep are destroyed. Attention, concentration, short-term memory and executive function (planning) are lost. Emotional control is unstable and unpredictable. Life with a brain injury is a life that feels out of control. It is disorienting and confusing. This cognitive – emotional state triggers suicide. When a psychiatric diagnoses is made medication is prescribed resulting in clinical worsening. Substance abuse also causes clinical worsening.
If you don’t diagnose and correctly treat brain injury, there will never be a successful treatment program. Medications do not heal the brain. This is a call – out to all military veterans: if you have been exposed to IED’s, RPG’s and other blasts and concussive forces, be evaluated with a SPECT brain scan, brain MRI – DTI (diffusion tensor imaging) or some other high level technology. Routine brain MRI scans (even with contrast) or head CT scans (even with contrast) are not able to “see” the injury. It is a limitation of technology, not proof that the TBI is not there.
There is treatment for this type of brain injury: Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT). The Patriot Clinics, Inc. of Oklahoma and the International Hyperbaric Medical Foundation have championed the cause to set up HBOT treatment facilities in every state. In Oklahoma, the Oklahoma State House, the Oklahoma State Senate and the Governor all signed a bill into law that would create a funding mechanism so that money would be available for their hyperbaric facility to treat all the military veterans in their state. The state of Oklahoma recognizes the connection between brain injury, PTS and suicide and the effective treatment. The goal is to have every state set–up a program for its military veterans so they can be treated at no charge.
Military traumatic brain injury and its consequences are at a crisis level. There are HBOT facilities, non – profit organizations and concerned citizens around the country that are prepared to come together and help insure that those who need it are treated. This is a grassroots movement and we the people must rise to the occasion. We must be heroes to our Heroes.
Carol L Henricks, MD
Behavioral Neurology, Epilepsy, Sleep Disorders, Traumatic Brain Injury & Hyperbaric Medicine
NorthStar Neurology PC
7596 N La Cholla Blvd
Tucson AZ 85741
Office Phone: 520-229-1238
Office FAX: 520-229-1242