Tens of thousands of wounded war veterans return from service with undiagnosed brain injuries which they attempt to conceal by withdrawing emotionally from their loved ones, new research has suggested. Scientists at Johns Hopkins University analysed a cohort of American combat veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. They uncovered tens of thousands of undiagnosed and untreated brain injuries amongst the participants which had been incurred during combat but had failed to be identified by military medical staff. The resulting physical pain and mental distress upon return to civilian life had a profound impact on the veterans, the scientists suggest. Higher risk of memory loss, cognitive struggles, mood disorders, migraine headaches, addiction, insomnia and suicide were amongst the risk factors associated with undiagnosed brain trauma. Researchers reported that the veterans subsequently responded by hiding the extent of their symptoms from their friends and family by both playing down their wounds and deciding to withdraw from close relationships. According to the latest figures from the US census, there are currently 21.8 million veterans in the country.
Researcher Rachel P. Chase hopes the research will help facilitate greater understanding and communication between veterans and medical workers, whilst involving families who might be confused about their relative’s altered behaviour: “For health providers, our study gives you a way to talk about the problem with the family, to show them that this isn’t unusual and that there is hope for the veterans.”