By: Alex Horton

While wars tend to carry a signature weapon, traumatic brain injury has often been called the signature wound of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Modern combat medicine and forward surgical teams have saved an amount of lives unthinkable even 60 years ago. But that yields complications: troops have survived wounds and injuries that would have killed in the past. Veterans are returning home with traumatic brain injury (TBI) in unprecedented numbers. But for the first time, a VA-led study has linked brain injuries from combat to a degenerative brain disease most commonly found in athletes.

From The New York Times: The paper provides the strongest evidence yet that some and perhaps many combat veterans with invisible brain injuries caused by explosions are at risk of developing long-term neurological disease — a finding that, if confirmed, would have profound implications for military policy, veterans programs and future research.

That last point is significant. Brain injuries are notoriously difficult to detect and treat, so these findings may help researchers unravel the complexity of the injuries that has frustrated a generation of medical professionals.

Stars & Stripes details how uniquely damaging chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) can be: Unlike the temporary cognitive and memory loss associated with some traumatic brain injuries, CTE manifests itself in the form of psychiatric symptoms, learning deficits, dementia and progressive brain cell death.

The study’s findings won’t answer all the questions we have about TBI, and it might even lead to some new ones. But given the severity and complexity of brain injuries, the more we know about them, the better we can treat Veterans who got danger close. If you sustained a head injury (like a concussion), check out our TBI resource page at http://www.polytrauma.va.gov/understanding-tbi/for symptoms, screening information, and recovery and rehabilitation options.