US Military's Handling of Brain Injuries, Mental Health in Spotlight

Luis Ramirez

The case of Robert Bales, the U.S. Army staff sergeant accused of murdering 17 Afghan villagers, is drawing attention about how the U.S. military handles brain injuries and mental health issues. Bales suffered a brain injury while serving in Iraq. The case of one veteran and his experience in getting treatment provides a view into the process.

For Will Cook, coming home has been almost as challenging as going to war in Iraq.  

Doctors believe the 22-year-old former U.S. army specialist is suffering from traumatic brain injury following an explosion.

He lost part of his leg and now uses a prosthetic one.

His brain is still in the process of healing.

“My memory has not been anywhere near what it used to be. Retaining information is difficult. When I try to speak, I draw a blank on words,” said Cook.

He complained of anxiety and crippling headaches.

Military doctors said it was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD].

Cook knew something different was wrong - something physical that doctors did not seem to catch.

“They didn’t give me all of my options. I don’t’ think they wanted to try because they thought they’d figured it out. They decided it was PTSD because their one scan didn’t show TBI [traumatic brain injury]."

Dr. Stephen Xenakis - a psychiatrist and retired army brigadier general now in private practice - carefully examined Will’s case in a way he said military doctors sometimes do not have the time to do.

“You’ve got the culture of the military that is - rightly so - so focused on the mission that they’ve got as many people into combat, on the playing field, as they can,” said Xenakis.

The case of Staff Sergeant Bales has drawn attention to this military hospital on his home base in the state of Washington. The facility is under investigation after hundreds of service members had their PTSD diagnoses reversed - decisions that critics say were motivated by concerns over the high cost of treating mental health issues.

The army says the problem is not systematic.

Xenakis said money can be a factor in military doctors’ treatment decisions - as can other issues such as experience, time spent with the patient, and sheer luck.

“Does that mean there needs to be more sensitivity, that perhaps it’s best to err on the side of over-diagnosing? That’s a question that needs to be considered here,” said Xenakis.

For Cook, more than 30 hyperbaric oxygen treatments have made a difference.

“I haven’t had any headaches anymore. The ringing in my ears has stopped. My memory started getting better. I’m retaining information better. Recall of words is better. My anxiety has gone down a lot to a more manageable level."

Cook has no plans to return to the military, but he is going on with his life. Just a few months ago, he could not remember simple things like phone numbers.

Now, he is getting ready to start college.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Mira Bartok
April 04, 2012 12:22 PM
Thank you for bringing attention to the affect TBI has on not only the military but the mental health system. I will send this article out to all my readers.
Mira Bartok, author of THE MEMORY PALACE

by: Raymond Murdock
April 03, 2012 2:40 PM
Psicologìa, enfermedades ocasionadas por traumas severos, accidentes,estupefacientes,exposiciones riesgo de vida,etc., Si lo básico y elemental no se sabe, menos alguien puede sugerir que hacer. Argumentos endebles, traen algo mas que problemas irracionales. Jueces en problemas ,muertes evitables y asesinos sueltos ?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs