Image by VA Office of Health Equity

More research is needed on TBI effects in veterans. Image by VA Office of Health Equity.

While recent discussions on the risks of traumatic brain injury – or TBI – have largely focused on findings among football players and other athletes, the repeated concussions that cause this trauma are also highly prevalent among veterans. A new editorial in the American Journal of Public Health calls for action to address brain trauma in veterans in the hopes of eliminating health disparities among this vulnerable population.

The editorial delves into the ways that members of the military are exposed to TBI and their increased risk for developing CTE, a progressive, neurodegenerative syndrome. The piece is authored by a group of physicians that includes Uchenna Uchendu, MD, of the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, and Bennet Omalu, MD, who was the first to discover and publish findings of CTE in American football players.

“Brain injuries are a major concern in the U.S., as an estimated 1.7 million people experience a TBI. Veterans tend to have a higher incidence of TBI than comparable counterparts in the general public as a result of military service exposures,” said Dr. Uchendu. “Unique exposures from military service add another layer of vulnerability to the usual determinants of health.”

Research is beginning to show that some of the post-traumatic stress disorder cases diagnosed in veterans are CTE, which raises concerns for increased rates of CTE among veterans. However, the prevalence of CTE is still unknown, and the amount of brain trauma exposure necessary to produce CTE is unclear.

On June 30, national experts will convene as part of the Focus on Health Equity and Action series to further this conversation. The webinar session will examine the connection between CTE and TBI, explore the impact on veterans and other vulnerable groups typically impacted by health disparities and offer suggestions for future actions in policy, operations, education and research. Register online to join the discussion.

For more about this editorial and the latest public health research, visit the American Journal of Public Health online.