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Thursday, December 01, 2011
Brain injury test does disservice
From the Statesman:
Roadside bombs were the signature weapon of the Iraq War, and the traumatic brain injuries they caused to Americans fighting in Iraq were the signature wound.
The severity of these brain injuries varied. Some were disabling; others were similar to the concussions experienced by football players. By 2007 they had affected tens of thousands of troops — not only in Iraq, but in Afghanistan as well.
The injuries were often invisible — the blast waves created by roadside bombs jolted brains or slammed heads to the ground or against vehicles but didn't always leave an external wound. Mild traumatic brain injuries were hard to diagnose and the intellectual and emotional problems they were capable of causing sometimes didn't show up for months.
Concerned, members of Congress passed a law four years ago requiring the military to test troops before they deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan to establish a cognitive baseline, used later to assess whether one was suffering from a brain injury.
Good intentions are often no match for conflicts of interest and policies that keep the government from profiting from things government employees invent.
As ProPublica, the independent, nonprofit investigative journalism organization, and NPR reported in a story published Tuesday in the American-Statesman, the test the military chose to use — the Automated Neuropsychological Assessment Metric — is not considered a sufficiently reliable method for screening or diagnosing traumatic brain injuries. The Army's surgeon general, Eric Schoomaker, said in a confidential email obtained by ProPublica and NPR that ANAM's use as a screening tool for mild traumatic brain injuries "is fraught with problems."
More than 1 million troops have taken the test. It has cost the government $42 million to administer.
The decision to use ANAM was politically and financially, not scientifically, motivated. "The people who invented ANAM and stood to make money from it were involved in the military's decision to use it. No other tests received serious consideration," ProPublica and NPR reported.
Army researchers developed the ANAM test. That, supposedly, was one of its biggest virtues: Since the Pentagon owned the test, the military could use it for free.
But the military allows its scientists to profit from the work they do for the government. Further, the military licensed ANAM to contractors, and then had to pay "millions of dollars to use" a test its researchers developed, ProPublica and NPR reported.Continue reading.
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