We have all seen--and many of us personally
know--people injured in the Iraq war.
What you may not know is there's been a
debate over whether our troops have the right
equipment to protect them.
Specifically, their helmets.
This war is unlike any our country has ever
We all know when we send our kids off to play
football or ride their bike they wear a helmet.
But what kind? And how much protection does it
provide? In a war zone, those are life and death
Improvised explosive device - I.E.D - Has become
part of our language of war.
Insurgents are placing them on roadways in
Iraq to kill and injure Americans.
More troops are surviving battle injuries
than ever before.
But military doctors say, because of I.E.D's,
more American troops are suffering traumatic
brain injuries .
As early as 2003 army doctors at Walter Reed
Medical Center determined the standard helmet
issued to troops "-doesn't provide much
protection from concussion injuries because it
is not well padded," according to Dr. Laurie
And "-it is not designed to absorb impact,"
according to Dr. Louis French
In a bomb blast the brain is literally
sloshed around inside the skull.
Following the Walter Reed study, the army
issued its troops new helmets, with padding to
protect against brain injuries. It's a concept
as simple as the one football teams use to
"The hard surface can injure the skull and
the brain. So not only do you want to have the
hard surface protecting the brain, but you need
to have the hard surface itself insulated from
the skull and the brain," said Dr Paul Aravich,
a professor at EVMS.
Despite the Walter Reed study, the Marine
Corps refused to issue new helmets. The Marines
top procurement officer told Congress this past
June that there was not enough evidence to
justify helmets with padding.
It wasn't just the Marine leadership. Marines
in baghdad said the same thing. But stateside,
many doctors were convinced.
There are four VA medical centers in the
country treating our troops returning home with
this kind of injury. One of them is the McGuire
VA Medical Center in Richmond. Inside these
walls doctors are seeing first hand the troops
returning home with traumatic brain injury
"Traumatic brain injury is the signature
injury of this war," said Dr. Shane McNamee.
He's Medical Director of Polytrauma at McGuire.
He says 62 percent of the troops injured in Iraq
suffered traumatic brain injury. But that
doesn't tell the whole story.
"What we're actually more concerned about is
the individuals who suffer one, two, five, six,
ten mild brain injuries who are going
undiagnosed," he said.
Paul Blais of Hampton suffered traumatic
brain injury in the attack on Khobar Towers in
Saudi Arabia ten years ago. Today he watches as
others begin to face the difficulties he knows
"I do have bad feelings and sentiments for
them because i know how very, very hard it's
going to be," he told us.
How many soliders are returning from Iraq
with traumatic brain injury? The Pentagon won't
release the numbers, claiming it would put
troops at risk.
Nearly three years after the first Walter
Reed study, the Marines reversed course. Just
last month the Marines issued an order making
padded helmets mandatory, and admitted a
Brigadier General John Kelly said: "It was an
error. The sling system was not a very good
Paul Blase, now unemployed and on disability,
has learned to live with his brain injury. Now
many other returning veterans will have to.
"The problems for the brain injured survivor
do not end when they are discharged from the
hospital. In many ways the problems of the brain
injured survivor are just beginning when they
are discharged from the hospital," said Dr
Many Americans have been frustrated that the
government didn't move faster to provide
upgraded helmets to our troops. So they did it
themselves. A grassroots effort that began with
the family of a retired Navy doctor, went to
Congress and Hollywood with great success.