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Illinois begins mandatory testing for traumatic brain injuries

On Monday, July 2, 2007, Illinois began the first mandatory screening for traumatic brain injuries in America. The screenings are limited to members of the state’s National Guard who served in Iraq or Afghanistan because the state has no authority over Federal soldiers. The program also includes a 24–hour hotline for veterans with PTSD or a traumatic brain injury.

The program was announced by Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich, and Tammy Duckworth, director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.

The New York Times, in Screening for Brain Injury Is Set for Illinois Veterans, by Libby Sander, quoted Dr. Felise S. Zollman, medical director of the brain injury program at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, who described the program:

“The mandatory screening would consist of a written questionnaire, an assessment by a medical professional, and a professional interpretation of the results. Service members believed to show symptoms of a brain injury would be referred for assessment and further treatment at a veterans’ center.”

In Illinois Unveils Mental Health Services for Returning Guardsmen, Veterans, by Donna Miles, reporting for American Forces Press Service, quoted Dr. Samuel Ward Casscells, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, who explained why mandatory testing is necessary:

“We’ve got these post-deployment questionnaires that you fill out when you leave theater.

When I left Iraq, I filled out a questionnaire that said: ‘Were you near an (improvised explosive device) that went off? Are you having trouble sleeping? Are you having trouble controlling your feelings?’ And so forth, and so on.

A lot of people check ‘no’ because they want to get home.

[Questionnaires have been retooled so that] even if they check ‘yes,’ they’re going to get home and get the care when they get home, he said, adding that this will help promote more honest responses.”

The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, says that:

In prior conflicts, TBI was present in at least 14–20% of surviving combat casualties; preliminary information from the current conflict in the Middle East suggests that this number is now much higher.

It is about time that someone is taking some steps to identify this problem.