In a war where the weapon of choice is a makeshift bomb, traumatic brain injury, or TBI, is plaguing U.S. soldiers by the thousands. Previously shrugged off, doctors now believe that even mild cases of TBI—a signature wound of Iraq and Afghan War vets—can either disqualify you from service, or require lifelong care that the Department of Veterans Affairs isn’t equipped to handle, according to critics. Since 2000, TBI has been diagnosed in about 180,000 service members. A 2008 Rand study puts the number at 320,000. TBI can manifest itself in a variety of ways, whether it’s a traumatic brain injury that requires a craniectomy, or soldiers whose brain chemistry has been altered so they can’t understand speech, can no longer laugh, or become dangerously impulsive. One of the only units exclusively dedicated to properly treating and rehabilitating TBI soldiers is 7 East, a unit in Bethesda, Maryland, that can only handle six patients at a time. Next month, a $65 million medical center devoted to TBI will open in Bethesda and eventually treat about 20 patients.
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