The U.S. Army is testing its soldier brains -- basic math, matching numbers and symbols, identifying patterns, response time -- before they leave for combat in Iraq.
It's all part of a nascent program designed to record how soldiers' brains work when healthy, giving doctors baseline data to help diagnose and treat the soldiers if they suffer a traumatic brain injury — the signature injury of the Iraq war.
"This allows the Army to be much more proactive," said Lt. Col. Mark McGrail, division surgeon for the 101st Airborne Division. "We don't want to wait until the soldier is getting out of the Army to say, 'But I've had these symptoms.'"
The mandatory brain-function tests are starting with the 101st at Fort Campbell and are expected to expand to other military bases in the next few months. Commanders at each base will decide whether to adopt the program.
The tests provide a standard, objective measurement for each soldier's reaction time, their short-term memory and other cognitive skills. That data would be used when the soldiers come home to identify mild brain trauma that can often go unnoticed and untreated.
One veterans group is suspicious of the Army's intent. It wants to ensure the Army doesn't use the results to deny treatment by claiming that soldiers' problems came from pre-existing conditions.
"We certainly think these tests should not be used to reduce the responsibility that the Army has to treat the soldiers who have served," said Jason Forrester, director of policy for Veterans for America.
The Army has faced charges that some soldiers with brain damage were misdiagnosed. The Government Accountability Office is investigating reports that as many as 40 soldiers at Colorado's Fort Carson were misdiagnosed with personality disorders after suffering brain damage or stress-related injuries.
Some symptoms of traumatic brain injury also overlap with post-traumatic stress disorder, another common condition among Iraq war veterans. The brain-injury test could also help doctors differentiate between those conditions.
Last Mod: 20 Eylül 2007, 15:48