The finding is bad news for the SEALs, who signed a one-year contract last month with ImPACT Applications to implement the test. It’s an alternative to the Pentagon-mandated Automated Neuropsychological Assessment Metrics (ANAM) tool that the Army surgeon general called “about as effective as a coin flip.”
But it’s also a preview of the results we can expect from a Pentagon-funded study by the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC). They’re comparing ImPACT to several other neuroassessment tools, to determine whether any are fit to replace the ANAM as the military’s go-to brain-injury test. At least 11,500 troops suffer from traumatic brain injuries, according to ProPublica.
ImPACT — if effective — would be particularly helpful for the SEALs. The test is taken online, meaning it’d theoretically be available in far-out regions where crews often operate. It’s also entirely computerized, so service members can obtain quick results wherever they are, without a medical specialist on hand.
The SEALS are still using ANAM among active-duty crew members, but they’re also touting the benefits of ImPACT, and claim the test is more effective and easier to use than the alternatives.
“We can quickly assess if an operator has suffered a head injury that requires him to be removed from the fight temporarily, or sent to a medical facility for further testing,” Navy Special Warfare Group spokesperson Lt. Catherine Wallace tells NextGov.
But those assessments might not be accurate, according to professor Steven Broglio at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In a 2007 study of ImPACT and two other brain-injury tests — both also being reviewed by the DVBIC — Broglio evaluated 118 healthy college students. ImPACT yielded a 38.4 percent false-positive rate, meaning it incorrectly diagnosed a vast swath of the students as impaired.
The other two brain-injury tests didn’t do much better. They reported 21.9 and 19.2 percent