SALT LAKE CITY -- Thousands of soldiers have been injured in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals are especially seeing more and more cases of traumatic brain injury, or TBI.
TBI was the subject of a daylong conference at the University of Utah Thursday.
One of the reasons doctors are seeing more brain injury cases is the battlefield is more modern: Vehicles are heavily fortified and can withstand more powerful attacks, and soldiers wear body armor with their uniforms.Back in the days of World War II, Vietnam and Korea, soldiers weren't nearly as well protected and died in these types of attacks. Now they survive, but they have a lot of medical issues when they come home.
Army Spc. Josh Hansen of Woods Cross served two tours of duty for the army in Iraq--in Fallujah and Ramadi. He and members of his company cleared improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, so other soldiers could safely pass.
"We'd go ahead of the Marines and clear the IEDs off the road before they'd come in and get killed or maimed," Hansen said.
Every 23 seconds, one person in the U.S. sustains a brain injury; every 7 minutes, someone dies of a brain injury. -B.I.A.U.
Hansen said he was hit by eight IEDs while in Iraq. He was severely injured in March of 2007 when he drove over a hidden bomb in his truck. He spent three weeks in a Texas hospital, recovering from back and neck injuries, as well as brain trauma caused by the concussion of the blast.
"I had to get my balance back," he said. "My speech was slurred. I had a real hard time understanding. When people would talk, they'd have to talk real slow and stuff."
The second annual Traumatic Brain Injury Resource Conference at the University of Utah is focused on people like Hansen and his situation. The conferences brings together health care providers, speech therapists, psychologists and others, all sharing information about what resources are available to those who need it.
Jennifer Romesser, a clinical psychologist at the Salt Lake VA Hospital told KSL, "So what this conference is doing is sharing our knowledge about the various resources available, the different services available within the state of Utah. We're sort of spreading the word, in a way, to other providers. It can be very difficult to locate the resources that you need in the community, even within the VA system, within a large medical setting. And so to be able to educate various providers about what the VA is doing, about what the Brain Injury Association of Utah is doing, and what some of these other services can do is very helpful."
Spc. Hansen said conferences like this were bringing much needed attention to an issue that, until recently, was largely ignored on the battlefield.
"It's definitely really good to see them take it more seriously. When we were first getting hit, if I missed an IED and got hit by it, a platoon sergeant would just say, ‘Hey can you lead us out again tomorrow?' You'd take some aspirin and go back out."
Hansen has come a long way since he was injured, but he still gets treatment at the VA every week.