Troops Suffer High Number of Brain Injuries A reporter's investigation finds at least four times as many troops are coming home with brain injuries than previously reported by the Pentagon. USA Today reporter Gregg Zoroya talks about how he compiled the data from military records, and what it means.
NPR logo

Troops Suffer High Number of Brain Injuries

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/16574734/16574718" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Troops Suffer High Number of Brain Injuries

Troops Suffer High Number of Brain Injuries

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/16574734/16574718" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

In a few minutes, flocks of Canadian shoppers are migrating south, thanks to the weak dollar, the weak American dollar. A loonie twist to Black Friday coming up.

First though, a big discrepancy in the number of U.S. soldiers who have brain injuries. The Pentagon says just more than 4,000 soldiers suffered brain trauma while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. A report out today in the newspaper USA Today says 20,000 more troops showed signs of brain injuries when they returned and they were not classified as wounded during combat.

Gregg Zoroya is the reporter who wrote that story, and he joins me now.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. GREGG ZOROYA (USA Today): Thanks very much. It's nice to be here.

BRAND: So you report that five times as many troops had signs of brain injuries that the Pentagon did not count. And how did you get your figures?

Mr. ZOROYA: Well, there's a handful of military installations and the Department of Veterans Affairs that have begun to start screening troops after they come back to find out if they've these wounds. And so we went to these different locations and tried to get the numbers.

BRAND: So when you went to the installations to get the numbers, it wasn't just numbers, it was diagnoses?

Mr. ZOROYA: It depends. The military installations have come to the conclusion that these are brain injuries. In the case of the V.A., they want to do further analysis. These folks obviously had been out of the military a little bit longer, but they're all veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. They're still examining them, trying to confirm that they suffered a brain injury.

BRAND: So how does the Pentagon explain the discrepancy?

Mr. ZOROYA: Well, they say that basically how they determine the number of casualties are those who are identified with wounds while they were in Iraq. They break their number of casualties or wounded, which is currently about 30,000, into two groups: those who are wounded severely enough to send home, and those who are wounded, treated, and returned to their units. They say they don't count those whose wounds are identified after they got home.

BRAND: Could it be, though, that these brain injuries are pretty mild forms of injuries, like concussions, that people can recover from?

Mr. ZOROYA: In many cases they are. But they're still learning more about these injuries. Even those that are diagnosed as mild often have symptoms that can last for a very long time or even be permanent in some cases with short-term memory and behavioral issues, that sort of thing.

BRAND: Could it be, though, that those symptoms point to something else, not a brain injury? Something like a post-traumatic stress disorder?

Mr. ZOROYA: Exactly. In many cases, it is confusing because some of the symptoms do seem to dovetail with those from PTSD, for example. It's all a matter of education. I think, they're continuing to try to understand this wound and just what it means and how severe it is.

BRAND: So what does it mean for members of the military who returned from Iraq or Afghanistan and they developed this problem and it's chronic? Do they get care from the V.A.?

Mr. ZOROYA: They have to be identified first. That's one of the main things. Once they're identified, then they try to begin treatment. In many of the installations this still isn't done. Although the Pentagon, just right about now, this many years into the war, has begun to add to its overall screening efforts to help them see whether these folks suffered brain injuries.

BRAND: Have you spoken to any of these soldiers or Marines?

Mr. ZOROYA: I have.

BRAND: And what have they told you?

Mr. ZOROYA: It's frustrating. Many of them are in kind of a position of denial. The symptoms they suffer, whether they're chronic, severe headaches, memory loss, even issues involving dizziness and nausea, they try to shake them off and keep going. It's a matter of if they're not bleeding, the wounds aren't obvious, they don't want to feel like something's wrong. And in many cases that's why they don't get diagnosed until after they return to their home base.

BRAND: How do they get these injuries?

Mr. ZOROYA: Probably the most common way is through the exposure to blasts. As many people know, the roadside bombs are one of the most common weapons used against American troops. And the explosion of those blasts, because they wear the body armor, many times they don't suffer other serious wounds and they feel as if they've kind of emerged from the explosion unscathed. But it's the effect of the blasts on their brain which scientists are finding could be more severe.

BRAND: Gregg Zoroya of USA Today. His report is out in today's newspaper about the number of brain injuries that U.S. soldiers and Marines are experiencing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gregg Zoroya, thanks for joining us.

Mr. ZOROYA: Oh, it was my pleasure.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.