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Traumatic brain injuries sustained by more than 200,000 U.S. troops may be fueling the military’s suicide crisis, according to a letter co-signed by 53 congressional members who are seeking additional data to investigate the new theory.

In the letter, sent Tuesday to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, the lawmakers urged both agencies to provide Congress with a raft of figures, including the number of Iraq and Afghanistan service members and veterans who committed suicide or tried to end their lives after being brain injured by the detonation of an improvised explosive device — “the weapon of choice” in both wars.

“Evidence has suggested that blast injuries, including but not limited to those causing damage to vision or hearing, can have a severe psychological impact ... that can play a major contributing role in suicides,” read the bi-partisan letter.

Between November 2011 and October 2012, there were more than 15,000 IED attacks against U.S. service members in Afghanistan, and 58 percent of all coalition casualties during that span were caused by the hidden bombs, the letter states.

At least three veterans groups, including the Blinded Veterans Association, are backing the congressional push to — as the letter to DOD and VA states — “get a better understanding of the connection between blast injuries and suicide.”

“I’ve talked to a lot of neurologists, military neurosurgeons and trauma surgeons who have all started to ponder if the IEDs that have caused the TBIs are the real cause of the suicides, versus the traditional approach that suicides are all caused by the psychological stresses of combat,” said Thomas Zampieri, head of government relations for the Blinded Veterans Association.

“Let’s collect more information and maybe the epidemiologists will find a way to unlock some of this mystery: Are military suicides actually more related to the brain injuries? I think there may be a big connection,” added Zampieri, who served as a Vietnam-era Army medic. “As the numbers of TBIs go up, the numbers of suicides continue to go up.”

The portion of U.S. service members who sustained TBIs increased each year from 2001 to 2011 — with a total of 266,810 brain injuries diagnosed in American troops between 2000 and 2012, according to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, part of the DOD. More than 80 percent of those injuries were not deployment-related cases, with many occurring amid crashes of privately owned cars and military vehicles.

Army soldiers account for the vast majority of diagnosed TBI cases, and those injuries range from “mild” (a concussion) to “severe.” Within the Army, the suicide rate among active-duty members has risen from 9 per 100,000 in 2001 to nearly 23 per 100,000 in 2011, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

During that same span, according to the DOD’s brain injury center, the number of annual TBI diagnoses among American troops has ballooned from 11,580 in 2001 to 32,609 in 2011 — an increase of 182 percent.

“What is significant is that we are looking at a potential paradigm shift of significant proportion if the link between low-level TBI from IEDs emerges,” said retired Army Col. Bob Morris, founder of the Global Campaign against IEDs.

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Great! I was looking for exactly the same thing all day yesterday. I really wish more people write about brain injury it. I really appreciate the post.
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