DOD’s Tissue Bank Aims to Boost Understanding of Military-Related Traumatic Brain Injury

The US Department of Defense’s new brain tissue repository aims to help doctors better understand traumatic brain injury among military service members.

In an effort to better understand the mechanisms and effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI) in military service members, the United States Department of Defense recently established the world’s first brain tissue repository. Military medical negligence attorneys with Jacksonville’s Spohrer & Dodd say the move is long overdue.

Statistics show that between 10 percent and 20 percent of all Iraq war veterans suffer at least a mild level of TBI. That percentage figure represents 150,000 to 400,000 servicemen and service women. For veterans with confirmed injuries to other parts of the body, the TBI rate rises to 33 percent. But studies also show that only a small percent of those affected are ever diagnosed.

Two reasons for that disparity in occurrence and diagnosis is that TBIs most commonly are closed head injuries, which can be very difficult to identify visually; and that TBI shares symptoms also strongly associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), including depression, mood swings, irritability, memory dysfunction and concentration limitations. As a result, TBI often is misdiagnosed as a different condition or missed altogether.

That’s particularly troubling when you consider the potential long-term effects of untreated TBI. These may include depression; dizziness or lightheadedness; clumsiness; forgetfulness; chronic fatigue; chronic headaches; loss of vision or hearing; stuttering or loss of speech; inability to read or write; and depression.

Formally known as the Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine Brain Tissue Repository for Traumatic Brain Injury, the DOD’s tissue bank may help change that.

“We have been at war for more than a decade, and our men and women have sacrificed,” said Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. “The military health care system is bringing all the resources it can to better understand how to prevent, diagnose and treat traumatic brain injuries and to ensure that service members have productive and long, quality lives. Our research efforts and treatment protocols are all geared toward improving care for these victims, and that will have benefits to the American public at large.”

The DOD’s tissue bank is housed at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland and funded with a multiyear grant from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command to advance the understanding and treatment of TBI in service members. The move shows that America’s powers-that-be finally are acknowledging the need for more specialized attention to TBI and related injuries.

Armed Services Remove Nearly 600 Troops from Sensitive Jobs

Nearly 600 military troops recently were removed from sensitive jobs after a review of their work and legal records found them unsuitable for their posts.

After a months-long review of the qualifications and records of more than 20,000 soldiers, US Army officials recently removed 588 from sensitive jobs. These include military sexual assault counselors who themselves had committed infractions like sexual assault.

The move was prompted by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s order last year that all of America’s military branches review the records and qualifications of people holding recruiting and sex assault response and prevention jobs – a massive effort to more proactively address the rising number of sexual assault reports by and against women and men serving in our Armed Forces. Nearly 600 were found to be unsuitable for their posts, having committed offenses like sexual assault, child abuse or drunken driving.

A statement released by Army officials noted that of the 588 soldiers removed from their posts, 79 will leave the service and that others could face further actions from their commands. It’s unclear whether those 79 will leave the service voluntarily. The US Navy reviewed some 11,000 employees and found five of them unqualified for their jobs. The Air Force removed two of the 2,500 sexual assault victim advocates and assault response coordinators reviewed. And media reports suggest that the Marine Corps found none of its staff unsuitable.

The vast differences in the results of reviews by the different Armed Services branches likely is due to the fact that only the army went far beyond Sec. Hagel’s requirement that services review recruiting and sex assault response and prevention staffs. Army officials also reviewed other staff members in “positions of trust” including drill sergeants and training school instructors.

“We will continue working to better ensure we select the very best people for these posts, and that the chain of command knows what is expected of them, and how important this work is to the Army,” Col. David Patterson, an Army spokesman, said in a statement.

News of the review results comes just as preliminary figures showing a 60-percent increase in the number of reported sexual assaults in the military are being discussed by America’s military and political leaders. Defense officials say the rise suggests victims are becoming more willing to come forward thanks in part to coverage of a series of high-profile scandals forcing the military to take more aggressive and proactive action.

Make no mistake – if you are a member of our nation’s Armed Services and are the victim of a sexual assault committed by another service member, you’ve got a tough fight ahead of you. An attorney experienced in dealing with military-involved cases can help.

Photo by Leonard Zhukovsky

7 Booming Facts About The U.S. Military

Mesothelioma, Asbestosis Top Concerns for US Military Veterans

Navy ships built prior to 1970, like the now decommissioned USS Missouri, exposed tens of thousands of America’s sailors to asbestos, leading to cancer and other health problems years later.

Asbestos-related mesothelioma has been a known and growing health issue for years, forcing changes in the commercial and residential construction industries. Yet, tens of thousands of America’s military servicemen and servicewomen remain at risk because so many of the nation’s military facilities and Navy ships were built prior to 1970. Though much of the asbestos has been removed from military buildings and vessels, traces may remain, and the health effects can be devastating.

Beginning in the 1930s, virtually every US Navy ship commissioned had asbestos insulation installed throughout, as well as asbestos coating on engine room boilers and on pipes that ran the length of the vessel. That would remain the case for a full four decades before doctors discovered the adverse health consequences of long-term asbestos exposure. By then, it was far too late for many of our military veterans to recover.

Asbestos exposure is to blame for two primary diseases:

  • Asbestosis: A progressive, incurable condition that causes scaring of the lungs and impairs the victim’s ability to breathe;
  • Mesothelioma: An aggressive, deadly form of cancer that typically forms in the membrane layer that lines the outside of the lungs, the heart and the walls of the chest and abdominal cavities.

Among the most troubling factors in mesothelioma is that symptoms won’t appear for some 20 years after exposure. That’s why so many of our military veterans who may have retired decades ago are just recently being diagnosed. At particular risk are Navy veterans who served aboard ships or in ship repair, as asbestos exposure was virtually a given.

Statistics show that nearly 30 percent of American patients diagnosed with mesothelioma over the past 40 year have been US military veterans, most of whom served in the Navy. Yet, securing fair compensation for these devastating diagnoses can be extremely difficult. Veteran’s Administration hospitals regularly treat patients suffering asbestos-related lung problems and even diagnose many with mesothelioma. But claims for VA disability benefits will almost assuredly be denied unless a patient can prove that the condition was caused by exposure that occurred as a direct result of active duty service – a near impossible task.

If you are a US military active duty service member or veteran suffering from mesothelioma, contact an experienced attorney for help in filing your claim for VA benefits.

Controversial Provision of Military Defense Bill Aimed at Cracking Down on Rape, Sexual Assault Under Attack

A controversial provision of the recently passed military defense bill aimed at cracking down on rape and sexual assault in the ranks already is threatened.

Following a year-long campaign led by the women of the Senate, and on the heels of a 46-percent increase in the number of sexual assault reports, Congress recently passed legislation for military support with a provision aimed directly at cracking down on sexual assault in the military. It’s a long-overdue victory, say military medical malpractice and negligence attorneys. But one controversial provision already is under attack.

The full bill provides for $632.8 billion in funding to cover combat pay, ships, aircraft, bases and a one-percent pay raise to military personnel. It also includes some two dozen new measures that significantly change the way the military handles reports of rape or sexual assault within its ranks. These include provisions granting victims new legal protections and counseling; changing the military’s Article 32 proceedings to limit intrusive questioning of victims; and requiring that those who have been convicted of rape or military assault against a fellow servicewoman or serviceman be dishonorably discharged or dismissed from service.

It also strips commanders of the authority to overturn convictions or to reduce sentences, giving that authority instead to seasoned trial lawyers who have prosecutorial experience and hold the rank of colonel or higher. And it’s that provision that already is under attack by a 9-member Pentagon subcommittee created as part of the Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel, established by the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.

Last week, that subcommittee released a report recommending that commanders keep their authority in sexual assault cases. That’s a real problem, victims advocates say, because many victims report having felt pressure or even received threats from commanders to keep quiet about rape and sexual assault incidents. Just one subcommittee member disagreed with her colleagues. Elizabeth Hillman, a law professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, noted that commanders “are neither essential nor well-suited for their current role in the legal process of criminal prosecution.”

The report suggests that before making a major systemic change, more time is necessary to see if such changes can create “meaningful improvements.”

Victims of Sex Assault in the Military Less Likely to Receive Veterans’ Benefits for PTSD, Report Shows

Victims of military sex assault are routinely discriminated against when it comes to securing VA benefits for PTSD, data shows.

Veterans whose post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is caused by military sexual trauma are far more likely to be denied disability compensation than other veterans diagnosed with PTSD, according to data just released after years of litigation. That’s particularly troubling because sexual assault is more strongly correlated with PTSD in veterans than any other trauma, including combat trauma, say military medical negligence attorneys with Jacksonville’s Spohrer & Dodd.

The report, titled Battle for Benefits: VA Discrimination Against Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma, shows that the Veterans Administration’s rate for granting claims based on sexual trauma-related PTSD fell far behind other PTSD claims each year from 2008 and 2012 – Between 16 and 30 percentage points, to be exact. And while military women are most affected by the discrimination, military men are victims, too.

In 2011, the VA granted just 49 percent of sex assault-related PTSD claims filed by women – less than half. But for male survivors, just 37 percent of disability claims were granted – This despite statistics from the Pentagon that show men made up over half of the military’s sexual assault survivors in 2012.

The data’s release was prompted by a Freedom of Information Act fight in federal court led by the Service Women’s Action Network, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School. Among the most frustrating factors is that the VA often holds sex assault victims to higher standards than other PTSD claimants, requiring them to submit documentation that simply doesn’t exist. These include official reports of rape or the results of pregnancy or STD tests. There is little to no understanding or acknowledgement that victims often delay reporting incidents, knowing they’ll invariably face harassment and retaliation.

If you are a survivor of military sexual assault or harassment, do not go it alone. Contact an attorney experienced in handling complex military cases for help in filing and defending your claim for compensation.

Marching Forward Documentary Highlight’s VA’s Research of Alternative Medical Treatments for Injured Veterans

Retired Army National Guard Specialist Ryan Terry appears in “Marching Forward,” a new documentary that explores returning veterans’ efforts to heal via alternative treatments.

Since September 11, 2001, nearly 2.6 million American troops have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of them came home to face all new battles, say military medical negligence attorneys with Jacksonville’s Spohrer & Dodd. Physical and psychological injuries can be complex and difficult to treat with currently accepted treatment options. That’s why the Department of Veterans Affairs has spent more than $65 million to research yoga, acupuncture and other alternative treatments since 2010.

In Marching Forward, a new 21-minute documentary, several retired and active military members share their experiences in getting effective medical and non-medical help for their service-related ailments. Options that are working include acupuncture, movement therapies like yoga and even juggling, and the always controversial medical marijuana. Such treatments may offer promise to veterans like retired Army National Guard Specialist Ryan Terry, prominently featured in the documentary.

The VA prescribed 24-year-old Terry up to 19 medications a day for post traumatic stress, depression and chronic physical pain. Still, his VA physician says that Terry’s goal to be 100 percent pain-free is unrealistic. And while the VA continues to research viable alternative treatments, it can take upwards of 14 to 17 years before new treatment options become accepted standard practice, says former Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker. Meanwhile, medication and psychotherapy remain the only PTSD treatments approved by the national VA, yet 40 percent of those diagnosed with the disorder report using alternative medicine already, according to the National Center for PTSD.

The good news is that VA clinics in many areas are more open to offering veterans an array of both traditional and alternative treatment choices. But because VA capabilities vary with location, many veterans are opting to seek additional or even substitute treatments from private medical care providers instead. And, at the time of Marching Forward‘s post-production earlier this year, upwards of 118,000 post-9/11 veterans were waiting for the VA to process their claims – something that can take months. The total backlog of VA claims has hit just over half a million.

America’s returning veterans suffering from service-related physical or psychological injuries deserve effective and timely treatment. If you’re one of them, contact a military medical negligence attorney experienced in dealing with VA-involved cases.

Marching Forward was produced by News21, a national multimedia, investigative reporting project involving some of the nation’s top journalism students.


Marching Forward: A Documentary about Alternative Paths to Recovery from News21 on Vimeo.

Government Shutdown Denies Families, Disabled Veterans Military and Veteran Benefits

The federal government shutdown is forcing the denial of benefits to disabled veterans and the families of fallen servicemen and servicewomen.

In the days since the October 1 shutdown of the United States federal government, various segments of the nation are beginning to realize the immediate implications, from tourists being turned away at the gates of national parks to the furloughs of 800,000 workers. Now, families of fallen military servicemen and servicewomen are experiencing insult to an already heartbreaking reality, say military medical malpractice attorneys with Jacksonville’s Spohrer & Dodd.

The families of five U.S. troops who gave their lives serving our country in Afghanistan received calls this week saying that the government would not pay their promised $100,000 death benefits. Commonly called the “death gratuity” and typically wired to relatives within 36 hours of notice of a service member’s death, those benefits are designed to help cover costs of funerals and flights of family members to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to meet their lost loved ones’ flag-draped coffins. They also help families cover immediate living expenses as they await survivor benefits.

“The government is hurting the wrong people,” said Shannon Collins, whose son, 19-year-old Marine Lance Corporal Jeremiah M. Collins Jr. was killed Saturday while supporting combat operations in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. “Families shouldn’t have to worry about how they’re going to bury their child. Families shouldn’t have to worry about how they’re going to feed their family if they don’t go to work this week.”

Interviewed by NBC News, Shannon Collins says she’s fortunate to be able to handle the return of her son’s remains to his hometown for burial, but sympathizes with those who will face a tougher time without the benefit.

“While that benefit may not be urgent for me, it’s urgent for somebody,” she told reporters. “There’s somebody who needs to fly their family home. There’s somebody who needs to have expenses covered, or be able to take off work to handle the affairs of their loved one. ”

Senator John McCain delivered scathing remarks to the U.S. Senate over the issue on Tuesday.

“Shouldn’t we as a body, Republican or Democrat – shouldn’t we be ashamed?” he asked. “I’m ashamed! I’m embarrassed. All of us should be.”

The ensuing outrage has prompted lawmakers to take a second look at the now highly controversial death benefit rule and newly drafted legislation could be considered as early as Wednesday.

But the adverse effects of the governmental shutdown don’t stop there. Nearly 3.8 million veterans have just learned they will not receive their disability compensation next month if the shutdown continues into late October. Pension payments will stop for upwards of 315,000 veterans and 202,000 surviving spouses and dependents, and stall the efforts of the Department of Veterans Affairs to reduce the already massive backlog of disability claims pending for longer than 125 days. An extended shutdown could halt a total of more than $6 billion in payments, said Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

Though the House already has passed legislation that would provide veterans disability, pension and other benefits should the shutdown continue, the White House has urged legislators against taking what it calls a “piecemeal approach” to continuing government services.
The shutdown has caused “unprecedented legal and programmatic questions,” Shinseki says.

If you or your family’s medical or disability benefits have been affected by the government shutdown, contact an attorney experienced in dealing with military and veterans’ benefits issues.

Securing Veterans Benefits Based on your Military Service

Missouri National Guard soldiers airlift sandbags with a black hawk helicopter to try and reinforce a levee Sunday, June 26, 2011 near Corning, Mo. Photo by Dave Weaver / Shutterstock.

Whether you’re a fulltime member or a part-time reservist, your military service entitles you to medical benefits when you face an illness or injury. But the type and duration of military service you’ve given will affect the veterans benefits for which you qualify. Military medical negligence attorneys with Jacksonville’s Spohrer & Dodd explain which types of service do or don’t count toward length-of-service requirements when qualifying for veterans’ benefits.

As expected, fulltime, active duty service in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, all of which fall under the direction of the U.S. Department of Defense, counts toward your veteran’s benefits. But for Reservists and National Guard personnel, not all of your time is included in your benefits bank.

Each branch of the military services also has a Reserve branch that falls under direction of the DoD. Reservists, who provide additional support to active-duty forces when needed, first attend basic training and military job school full time. This service is considered “active duty for training” (ADT). Following training, Reservists serve drills with their units one weekend per month and two weeks per year. Those two weeks are considered ADT, and the monthly drills are called “inactive duty training” or IDT. Neither your ADT or IDT time counts toward your veterans’ benefits.

However, at any given time, upwards of 65,000 Reservists are called into active duty to support military missions. All of this time counts toward your benefits.

The Army National Guard and the Air National Guard work much like the Reserves when it comes to service time and benefit eligibility. National Guard members also attend ADT basic and annual training and military job school, as well as weekend IDT time – none of which count towards benefits. Like Reservists, National Guard members also can be called into active duty by the President or Secretary of Defense in an order called a “Title 10 Call-up.” However, in what is called “Title 38 Call-up,” state governors also can call them into active duty in times of state emergencies. Federal Title 10 Call-up duty counts toward your veterans’ benefits, but Title 38 Call-up, or state duty, does not.

Not all Reservists and National Guard members are part-time military personnel. Many, called Active Guard/Reserves members, serve full-time active duty, providing daily operational support ensuring that National Guard and Reserve units are ready to mobilize at a moment’s notice. These members’ time, called AGR duty, does count toward benefits.

One lesser known type of military service is Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). Enlisting in any of the military branches means an eight-year commitment, though you may not actually serve all eight years in active duty. When a military member leaves service before the eight-year timeframe is up, he or she is placed on IRR status and can be called back into active duty at any time. Time listed under IRR status but not physically serving duty does not count toward benefits, but IRR active duty does.

Filing for and securing veteran’s medical benefits can be complex and confusing. If you’re facing a need for benefits, particularly in cases of military medical negligence or malpractice, contact an attorney specializing in military and veterans’ benefits.


Military Medical Health Records and HIPAA

Military medical records are subject to HIPAA regulations, too.

Formally known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, HIPAA is a federal law that protects patients’ privacy. But is that protection extended to veterans or active members of the US Armed Forces? Absolutely, say military medical negligence attorneys. But there are exceptions.

The definition of “health plan” in HIPAA specifically includes “the health care program for active military personnel under title 10, United States Code.” Further, the Department of Defense’s DOD 6025.18-R spells out the legal uses and disclosures of protected health information (PHI) in accordance with HIPAA. PHI is defined as “individually identifiable health information created or received by a health care provider, health plan, or employer; that relates to a person’s past, present, or future physical or mental health condition, the provision of health care to a person, or the past, present, or future payment of health care; that identifies the person; and that is transmitted or maintained by electronic or any other form or medium.”

Thus, the military health system is subject to the same HIPAA regulations as acivilian hospitals and healthcare providers, and HIPAA privacy officers can be found at virtually every military medical treatment facility. These officers help military commanders, Judge Advocate Generals, law enforcement investigators and patients navigate the sometimes tricky health care privacy waters.

Disclosure of most PHI requires the patient’s written authorization, or at least affords the patient an opportunity to object. However, as you may expect, there are instances where PHI disclosures may be made without the patient’s authorization or knowledge. These instances include disclosures made to law enforcement officials and Military Command Authorities for investigative and specialized government functions, primarily to assess a service member’s physical and mental fitness.

Even in those legal disclosure situations, there are limitations. For instance, law enforcement officers generally must state their reasons for requesting a service member’s PHI. Also, rules require using and disclosing only the minimum amount of information necessary for stated purposes. In most cases, patients have the right to request an accounting of certain disclosures of their PHI, restrictions on those disclosures, a confidential communication of PHI from a health care provider, a copy of his or her PHI, and amendments to PHI in medical records.

US military men and women serve to protect their fellow Americans’ freedom and rights. So, it’s only fair that your freedom and right to privacy be protected as well. If you suspect that your private health information has been compromised or illegally disclosed, contact an experienced military medical negligence attorney immediately.