PORTLAND (AP) – The Maine Army National Guard has embarked on a program to test its members before and after they’re deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in what is thought to be the first state-level initiative to identify brain injuries in troops.

The Guard is collaborating with Dartmouth Medical School in giving computerized cognition tests to Guard members before they go overseas. It’s the same test given to National Football League players to test their memory and attention span.

The members will be given the same test when they return home to determine the extent of their brain injuries. Concussions are considered the signature wounds of war – the force of explosives can rattle the brain against the skull, causing serious injury – but untold numbers of soldiers don’t get diagnosed.

Elizabeth Pearson, the Dartmouth researcher who helped create the program, said more than 150 Guard members were tested earlier this year before they left for yearlong tours

“I just kept thinking ‘please come home safe,”‘ Pearson said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen between now and January. I hope everybody is right where they were.”

The project, which is funded by a three-year, $300,000 grant from the Maine Health Access Foundation, is being followed closely by other states, said Lt. Col. Patrick Tangney, the Maine Army National Guard state surgeon. The Army also is working on a plan similar to the one in Maine, he said.

The Veterans Affairs hospital in Togus is currently treating 62 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans for brain injury, said spokesman James Doherty. But the number of actual injuries is believed to be much higher.

Some veterans choose to see doctors in the civilian sector, while those still in active duty are treated by medical personnel with the Department of Defense. In some cases, doctors may not recognize the symptoms because of inexperience.

“A lot of physicians aren’t trained in brain injury or have minimal training, and so they miss it,” said Marcia Cooper, the project’s manager.

Some patients may underreport their symptoms, which include headaches, fatigue, dizziness and memory loss. And some may not exhibit any symptoms at an initial screening, said Kathy Russin, a licensed clinical social worker who works with Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans at Togus.

“I’ve had the opportunity to get to know someone and something just looked like it required more investigation, a year or two later,” she said.

Besides identifying brain injuries, the program is also trying to make sure troops get care if they need it. The program is holding two workshops for health care workers in June in Orono and Portland to improve their understanding of brain injuries.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.