November 28, 2011
The U.S. military has spent more than $42 million to test every service member's brain to find out who suffered a traumatic brain injury, or TBI, during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. But an investigation by NPR and ProPublica has found that military leaders are refusing to carry out the testing program as Congress ordered. Partly as a result, the program that was supposed to fix things has hardly helped any of the troops.
On a recent morning, four dozen soldiers who were about to be deployed to Afghanistan filed into a squat wooden building at Fort Lewis, in Washington state. For the next 20 minutes they would sit at rows of laptop computers clicking through the automated neural psychological assessment metrics computer program known as ANAM.
Congress ordered the military four years ago to test all service members for cognitive brain functions at least twice — before they go to war, and again when they return.
"One of the best ways to tell if something's affecting you is to know how you were before it happened. That's what you do here with ANAM. You'll take ANAM, and it's going to be your baseline," says Felix Rios, a contractor with the Office of the Surgeon General who helps administer the test.
Soldiers like Sgt. Michael Persyn say they're glad they've taken this test.
"It at least gives me a feeling that if ... there is something wrong with me, that they'll be able to know about it," he says.
"I felt more reassured," says Benjamin Louis Westman, another soldier taking the test.
But an investigation by NPR and ProPublica has found that these troops have little reason to feel reassured. From interviews with dozens of medical specialists and an analysis of hundreds of pages of military emails and documents, evidence shows that military officials have made poor decisions about the testing program, preventing it from helping many troops who have brain injuries.
"We have failed. We have failed soldiers," says retired Col. Mary Lopez, who used to run the Army's testing program. She still works with soldiers in Germany. "It is incredibly frustrating because I can see firsthand the soldiers that we've missed, the soldiers that have not been treated, not been identified, misdiagnosed. And then they struggle."...[Full Article]