BAE Helmet Sensor Contract a Step in the Right Direction

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BAE Systems has received an initial order of $17 million from the U.S. Army for Headborne Energy Analysis and Diagnostic Systems (“HEADS”) to help address combat-related traumatic brain injuries(“TBI”), which according to many medical professionals are becoming a signature injury of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.   BAE is one of two military contractors who has received such a contract with a maximum contract award value of $105 million.

According to the news release, the HEAD’s sensor system is “designed to better monitor soldiers and help identify their risk levels for combat-related TBIs, BAE Systems introduced its HEADS sensor to the military in 2008. Since then, nearly 7,000 of the company’s HEADS units have been fielded to the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps . . .”

While this appears to be good news given the increased media focus on TBI-related injuries, it would be most useful if the DOD could share information with the public on the data it collected over the last two years based on the 7,000 units that have already been fielded.  Presumably, there is enough information from this sample testing to award a $105 million contract.  SFTT makes this simple request, since Dr. Charles Hoge, the U.S. Army’s senior mental health researcher at Walter Reed Hospital from 2002 to 2009 and now advisor to the Army Surgeon General, wrote an interesting piece for the Huffington Post in which he effectively dismissed the idea that there might be lingering effects from mild traumatic brain injury (“TBI”).

Is Dr. Hodge yet another case of a military spokesperson “sugar-coating” or “quibbling” over the effects of traumatic brain injury because of improper helmet design or is there something more sinister the military leadership is hiding?  Why the sudden rush to extend the use of sensors to track TBI?   With the recent recall of military helmets and Dr. Hodge’s lame defense of troops with “mild” TBI, one suspects that there is strong reason to be concerned that our troops don’t have the “proper” headgear and are not likely to have any too soon since the new HEAD’s sensors won’t be available until July, 2011.   While this may allow us to treat TBI injuries more quickly, it does little to determine whether our troops have the best available headgear.

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Military Helmets: Traumatic Brain Injury

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Dr. Charles Hoge, the U.S. Army’s senior mental health researcher at Walter Reed Hospital from 2002 to 2009 and now advisor to the Army Surgeon General, wrote an interesting piece for the Huffington Post in which he effectively dismissed the idea that there might be lingering effects from mild traumatic brain injury (“TBI”).    This article appears to have written to place the US Army “spin” on earlier report from the New York Times that a US Army survey of 18,000 soldiers suggested that 40% of returning soldiers had “experienced at least mild TBI.”   Could it be that our antiquated military helmets should have provided better protection to prevent these cases of TBI?

While Dr. Hoge recommends that we should honor these brave but impaired heroes, he goes on to argue that there is no easy clinical or pychological explanation to determine the degree of TBI.  In fact, he goes on to suggest that we re-label these conditions to produce an “AC” or Army-Correct version.  According to Dr. Hoge, “medical and mental health professionals can better educate their warriors about combat physiology, and not make everything so clinical. Instead of ‘trauma,’ ‘injury,’ ‘symptom’ or ‘disorder,’ they can try using words like ‘experience,’ ‘event,’ ‘reaction’ or ‘physiological responses.’ That doesn’t minimize the importance of medical terminology, especially in guiding effective treatment, but it also acknowledges the warriors’ need for validation of their own experiences.” 

This callous “spin” suggests that if we call the symptoms or evidence of TBI something else such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) then we have a psychologically treatable “reaction” to high levels of stress rather than a physical ailment.  This is sophistry at its best.

Many have long argued that our troops need state-or-the-art liners and self-adjusting padding inside military helmets to cushion or dissipate the energy of a hit that lessen the sudden movement of the head that causes concussions.   Why can’t our brave soldiers be afforded the same level of protection that we give to NFL and college football players?  The technology is available if only the US Army would care to look rather than staunchly defend the safety of current military helmets.

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