The study of head injuries and traumatic brain injuries sustained by military personnel in the course of active duty or in training exercises is still a relatively new field, as much of the modern medical focus has been on how injuries caused by bullets and shrapnel affect the brain.
However, as our understanding of how concussion, loss of consciousness and post-traumatic amnesia affects the brain, the focus has shifted away from severe and penetrating brain injuries towards closed head injuries and traumatic brain injuries, and how they affect the lives of returning veterans.
Traumatic brain injury – especially mild traumatic brain injury – is a common consequence of life in the modern military. The current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have highlighted bomb blasts and explosions as a “new” mechanism of brain injury. While the evidence for how significantly primary blast effects can damage the central nervous system is limited and controversial, there are many aspects of blast-induced brain injury that may have a direct effect on the long-term mental health of the patient. These include high rates of sensory impairment, pain issues, and polytrauma. In addition, the emotional context in which the injury occurred must also be considered in understanding the clinical presentation of these patients. Successful treatment of these individuals must use a multidisciplinary approach focused on the varied conditions that occur in those injured.
Recently, attention has been focused on soldiers returning with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), fast becoming known as the “signature wound” of conflicts taking place within the Middle East. Whilst many doctors still prefer to consider TBI an overarching diagnostic category, the latest findings now suggest that the severity of a TBI can now be used to anticipate the likely prognosis for the patient. In turn, this could potentially affect the legal circumstances of patients seeking head injury compensation following negligence on the part of the army.
It’s worth noting that since 2000 only about 10% of head injuries sustained by service personnel from around the world have registered as mild to severe TBI. In addition to this, the vast majority of TBIs (82.5%) end up being classified as mild in nature. At first glance this may appear reassuring, but the reality is that because the symptoms of mild TBIs are more subtle and often include little to no loss of consciousness, their long-lasting effects are easy to miss. Under these circumstances, the likelihood of clinical negligence increases and the possibility of securing head injury compensation for victims becomes a realistic prospect.
Veterans suffering from a TBI might for example complain of persistent headaches, loss of memory or difficulty in maintaining concentration. Other symptoms can include sleep disturbance, anxiety or depression and cognitive difficulties. What all of these have in common is the fact that they can potentially be caused by a range of other combat-related injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), making it difficult for doctors to pursue an effective course of treatment. In fact, research suggests that head injuries suffered by military personnel contribute to them developing PTSD or other psychological problems.
One of the more curious findings from research into patients with mild TBIs is that they often exhibit more pronounced psychological distress than those with more severe versions of the injury, potentially increasing the amount of injury compensation they might be eligible for. One of the proposed explanations for this is that those with severe TBIs have suffered extensive damage to their neurological systems, having an adverse effect on their self-awareness and reducing their ability to perceive distressful situations. Other doctors argue that the effects of mild TBIs arise largely due to a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors unique to the patient, and are therefore capable of exacting uniquely damaging consequences. This secondary perspective is supported by extensive neuropsychological research on mild TBIs demonstrating little to no effect of injury on cognitive functioning beyond the first few weeks after injury, when additional factors such as patient motivation have been addressed.
Addressing patient motivation following a head injury or a traumatic brain injury however is not a simple process in and of itself. About 40% of evaluations on patients suffering from these afflictions are rendered void because they are thought not to adequately reflect the individual’s full capabilities. This reflects the fact that treatment of head injuries and TBIs remains an incredibly complex field and where clinical negligence can be proven, could lead to significant head injury compensation.
Jason Brady, specialist military injury compensation solicitor at Blackwater Law personal injury solicitors in Suffolk, said: “Head injuries sustained by military personnel range dramatically from minor through to severe and they can go undiagnosed, and therefore untreated, for months and maybe even years, with significant consequences. Perhaps understandably, some personnel are reluctant to seek medical help or support. However, in other cases, such support may not be provided e.
“When we think about military injuries, it is important to remember that there is a high incidence of serious injuries, including traumatic head injuries, sustained during military training exercises, as well as whilst on tour. Those injured during training or whilst on active duty are equally entitled to claim compensation if there has been negligence or clinical negligence.”
Whilst the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme exists to compensate military personnel for injuries sustained whilst serving, it is important injured personnel at least have an initial conversation with a specialist solicitor as they may be able to claim a larger amount of compensation outside of this scheme This ensures the individual is well informed about the potential level of injury compensation they may be entitled to claim.
Research into helping veterans returning with head injuries and TBIs continues to improve our understanding of the affliction, but there remains a long way to go before we can truly claim to have confidence in treatment programs. War remains an inherently dangerous pursuit; a fact well understood by service personnel who fight for the freedoms we enjoy at home, but many families remain concerned about the consequences of head injuries, and specifically TBIs.
Claiming compensation for a head injury:
If you or a loved one have sustained a head injury, or any other injury, in the course of military exercises or service, speak to a specialist solicitor at Blackwater Law today for free initial legal support and advice. Contact us on 0800 083 5500 to find out whether you may be eligible for head injury compensation.