Spotlight on Female Brain Injury Victims

Spotlight on Female Brain Injury Victims

Much of the research regarding brain injuries and Iraq veterans focuses on men, but women bear the same combat responsibilities as men. A recent study attempted to bridge the gender gap.

Dr. Kristine Yaffe and her colleagues at the University of San Francisco reviewed over 100,000 female service records. They concluded that women with PTSD, TBI, and/or depression were twice as likely to develop dementia later in life.

The PTSD and TBI links to dementia were higher in women than men, but the depression-dementia link was lower in female veterans.

Combat-Related PTSD

William Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1 may contain one of the earliest modern references to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In Act 2, Scene 3, Lady Percy laments Hotspur’s condition. He had just returned from a brutal war and was about to go back again. In part, she says:

In thy faint slumbers I by thee have watched,

And heard thee murmur tales of iron wars,

Speak terms of manage to thy bounding steed,

Cry “Courage! To the field!” And thou hast talk’d

Of sallies and retires, of trenches, tents,

Of palisadoes, frontiers, parapets,

Of basilisks, of cannon, culverin,

Of prisoners’ ransom and of soldiers slain,

And all the currents of a heady fight.

Hotspur’s symptoms may sound hauntingly familiar to many modern PTSD victims. If the disorder was that bad in the Iron Age, it was infinitely worse some 400 years later during World War I. This video shows some “shell shock” victims. These poor souls are by no means the worst of the lot.

Today, doctors understand PTSD much better than they did in Black Jack Pershing’s day. Back then, most doctors believed that some soldiers could “take it” and other soldiers could not. If the stress was too much, doctors reasoned, the soldiers just needed some additional time off. Today, doctors know that combat stress erodes the cerebral cortex.

This is the part of the brain that controls logical responses. If the cerebral cortex is weak, the amygdala, or the part of the brain that controls emotional responses, runs amok. This imbalance explains the symptoms that Hotspur endured so long ago, and also explains the symptoms that victims suffer today.

The bottom line is that PTSD is a physical injury, so it it eligible for DBA compensation, as outlined below. Indeed, the Canadian Armed Forces recently did away with the PTSD label and replaced it with Operational Stress Injury. OSI victims are eligible for the Canadian equivalent of a Purple Heart.

Overseas Contractors and TBIs

Everyone agrees that Traumatic Brain Injuries are physical injuries. Blows to the head kill brain cells. These blows come in several different forms:

  • Trauma: Contractors who are knocked to the ground often physically injure their brains. Since the thick skull holds in the blood and eliminates visual swelling, some TBIs go unnoticed for quite some time.
  • Motion: Some contractors are on the periphery of a blast radius. They are knocked down, but they get back up. However, they are not the same because many suffer motion-related TBIs. Just like it is possible to scramble an egg without cracking the shell, it is possible to scramble the brain without breaking the skull.
  • Noise: Even contractors who are several blocks away from an explosive blast may be at risk. Loud noises produce shock waves that disrupt brain functions. These shock waves are basically like biological Electromagnetic Pulses.

The medical community is divided about some other TBI aspects. For example, no one is sure if a TBI or concussion results from one serious incident or the cumulative effect of smaller incidents. There is evidence to back each belief. So, your claim for DBA compensation is easier to establish.

Unlike dead bone cells or skin cells, dead brain cells never regenerate. So, TBIs are permanent. Extended physical therapy is the only known treatment. Eventually, uninjured parts of the brain may take over the lost functions. The victim will not be the same, but hopefully, the victim will be able to move forward and live life.

Depression Among Veterans

Aside from PTSD and TBIs, depression is the most commonly diagnosed mental condition among returning contractors. Depression is often linked to PTSD. If you have a PTSD brain injury, you will probably also develop a condition like Major Depressive Disorder. Veterans suffer from MDD at about twice the rate of nonveterans.

Depression does more than sap energy, create relationship problems, and make everyday tasks almost impossible. This mental illness is also linked to heart disease, diabetes, and strokes. Depression affects blood flow to certain parts of the body.

Help is available. Many depressed veterans respond very well to medication. The medicine basically kick-starts initiative to re-engage with families, friends, and communities. Once that happens, the worst is probably over.

Compensation Available

The Defense Base Act compensates injured overseas contractors for all these conditions. Since the Veterans Administration does not take care of injured contractors, DBA eligibility is defined in broad terms.

First, the victim must have served overseas in a war zone. The law defines a “war zone” as any country that has at least one U.S. military installation. That could be something as small as a military attache office. So, even if bullets are not flying, a country could still be a war zone.

Second, the victim must establish a nexus between overseas service and a given injury. Unlike workers’ compensation injuries, DBA injuries need not occur while the victim is on the clock. Furthermore, nexus is different from cause. For example, if a contractor swims in the ocean partially for recreation and partially for fitness and gets caught in a riptide, DBA compensation may be available.

This money includes compensation for both lost wages and medical bills. Most victims receive two-thirds of their average weekly wage, and the insurance company pays for all reasonably necessary medical expenses.

Contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, PA to learn more about Defense Base Act benefits.