Health Team

Duke, VA Study Soldier Brain Disorders

Posted April 9, 2008 5:04 p.m. EDT
Updated April 9, 2008 10:30 p.m. EDT

— Duke and Durham VA Medical Centers will work together over the next five years to study the best ways to diagnose and treat Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

These conditions may not be easily seen from the outside, but they often spoil a soldier’s return home.

Kevin Rumsey served two tours in Iraq as a Marine chaplain’s aide. Before he went home, an improvised explosive device (IED) went off in front of the vehicle in which he was riding. Though he wasn’t hit by shrapnel, Rumsey absorbed the "blast wave."

“There's this blast wave, and we know that patients can definitely be injured just from that blast wave,” said Dr. Gerald Grant, a neurosurgeon at Duke.

Grant, also an Air Force reservist, has treated many soldiers with traumatic brain injury in a tent hospital north of Baghdad.

Now, Grant is leading the joint study into traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), two conditions that often are associated with combat situations and often occur together.

“The memory's been affected and you know, it's just overall – my moods have been a little bit different,” Rumsey said.

Rumsey, now a Scouting executive in Durham, said he gets severe headaches and has trouble concentrating for long periods.

Dr. Christine Marx, a psychiatrist with Duke/Durham VA Medical Center, said treatments are good now, but things could be better. She said new research will help doctors treat TBI and PTSD together, which may lead to earlier diagnoses and more effective treatment.

Marx’s goals is “to help them return to optimal social and occupational functioning – to return to a high quality of life and to help with their readjustment.”

“We hope it will translate also to the civilian world and help the American public in general. It's not unique to a war setting,” Grant said.

Rumsey said he hopes that just the awareness of the diseases will help returning soldiers gain greater acceptance.

The U.S. Department of Defense selected Duke and Durham VA Medical Center as one of 10 study sites in the country. The study will also be analyzing ways to offer better screening before a second deployment.