Health & Safety

March 10, 2014

Aiming to reduce stigma of TBI

Gustavo Bahena
Public Affairs Office NTC and Fort Irwin

National Brain Injury Awareness Month a time to get informed, get treatment

In order for more individuals to seek treatment for traumatic brain injuries, the social stigma associated with that “invisible wound” must be reduced.

That is the message Maj. Shirley Daniel, chief and program manager of the TBI/Concussive Injury Clinic at Weed Army Community Hospital on Fort Irwin, wants to impart to Sol- diers, Families and civilians of this military installation. With March being National Brain Injury Awareness Month, it is an opportunity for the nation and the Army to inform communi- ties about TBI’s and the need for treatment and prevention.

Traumatic brain injuries have become one of the signature invisible wounds of war resulting from combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to Daniel. And while most individuals fully recover from a TBI, many others live with short and long term physical, behavioral, psychological and cognitive changes.

“It is important for leaders and Soldiers to understand and identify signs and symptoms early after an injury has occurred,” Daniel said.

Leaders care about their Soldiers’ well-being, Daniel said.

However, sometimes even leaders have a hard time acknowl- edging they may be experiencing symptoms from a TBI and haven’t sought treatment. Often, the stigma of being associated with an injury that produces behavioral or cognitive challenges reduces the likelihood a servicemember will seek treatment. But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

An example of a leader who pushed to de-stigmatize medical problems is retired Gen. Peter Chiarelli. During Chiarelli’s
tenure as Army vice chief of staff, he advocated for changing the term “post traumatic stress disorder” to “post traumatic stress” in order to reduce the historical stigma linked with PTSD.

“I think we have begun the process in the Army of de-stigmatizing behavior health issues. That to me is absolutely critical,” Chiarelli said in 2012, when he was leading the effort to reduce suicides in the Army.

Chiarelli continues to support servicemembers through the Ronald A. Katz Center for Collaborative Military Medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles. Chiarelli and a team from UCLA will attend a National Training Center senior leaders’ summit on TBI and PTSD to be held by United States Army Medical Department Activity, here, March 31.

The summit, organized by Daniel, seeks to increase leader awareness of the invisible wounds of TBI’s with co-occurring physiological health issues and will include the signing of a memorandum of agreement between MEDDAC and UCLA.

It will also highlight effective and innovative treatment options through technology. The Summit will be one of the largest of its kind and may become the model for the rest of the Army.




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