By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Sept. 13, 2012) -- The Army has made more progress in studying traumatic brain injury in the last 10 years than it made in the previous 50, said the service's vice chief.
On Capitol Hill, Sept. 12, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III appeared alongside the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, to discuss the initiatives being shared by the two organizations in regard to traumatic brain injuries, known as TBIs.
Austin and Goodell met with lawmakers from both the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force and the Military Veterans Caucus to let them know about the work that both the Army and the NFL are doing to learn more about TBI, and to share what has been learned about TBI prevention and diagnosis.
Austin said the Army has made "significant progress in recent years" in Afghanistan in regard to TBI. Protocols in theater now prescribe what has to be done when a Soldier experiences such an injury, for instance.
There are nine concussion care centers in Afghanistan.
About 7,000 Soldiers are deployed to theater now with sensors in their helmets to record concussive events. Additional units are preparing to deploy with those sensors in their helmets.
The Army is also working on tests that can detect biomarkers in the blood that will indicate more accurately if a Soldier has suffered injury to the brain as a result of a concussion.
"We are doing a lot in this area," Austin said. "We can never do enough. We are going to continue to push the envelope. Our goal is to achieve more, to do it sooner, and to create greater effect."
"TBI affects a significant portion of our population, and not just within our military ranks or among professional athletes, but across society as a whole," Austin said.
There have been about 244,000 cases of TBI over the last 11 years in the DOD. In the United States, there are about 1.7 million diagnosed cases of TBI each year, and it's expected there's an additional 1 million cases that go undiagnosed. Both Soldiers and athletes, such as those in the NFL, are suffering from TBI.
During a ceremony in August at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno and Goddell both signed a letter outlining initiatives to be taken by the Army and NFL in regard to TBI. Included in the initiative is a promise to share medical research and information about TBI between the two organizations.
The Army's focus on TBI is directed at protecting Soldiers in combat, while the NFL wants to protect its players. The NFL is also an influencer, nation-wide, in promoting TBI awareness among youth football teams. The league, for instance, is involved in an effort to get newer, more modern football helmets into youth football programs.
The league also supports the Zackery Lystedt law, legislation designed to protect young athletes who've suffered a concussion from returning to play before it is safe.
The Army and the NFL have both launched websites dedicated to their shared initiative, the Army at www.army.mil/tbi, and the NFL at www.nfl.com/military. Both organizations will also bring together pro football players and Soldiers at forums around the country to highlight the importance of seeking treatment for TBI.
"All of us are working cooperatively to make a difference to address this issue, to make it safer for not only our troops but for sports in general and society in general," Goodell said.