Boston, MA– Researchers are conducting a large-scale study to understand how blast injuries affect veterans’ health. After the start of the Iraq War, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) began seeing more people returning from combat with concussions or traumatic brain injury (TBI) from exposure to improvised explosive devices (IEDs), yet the impacts of these injuries were not well understood. TBI has since been associated with physical, cognitive, behavioral, and emotional changes or difficulties.  

WBUR reported that Harvard University’s Translational Research Center for Traumatic Brain Injury and Stress Disorders (TRACTS) is conducting a study in collaboration with the Boston VA to understand the full impact of war on an individual, taking into account TBI, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and any previous injuries individuals may have sustained earlier in life that might impact their reaction to military deployment.

Study co-director Regina McGlinchey explains: “We don't only look at the military service period. We look at what happened to these people when they were younger, before they were in the military, so we capture things like rock wars and sledding incidences when they were growing up.”

The research team led by McGlinchey and study co-director Bill Millberg has found that blast exposure leads to alteration in brain function and structure. One of the Boston VA researchers, Laura Grande, isolated the impact on veterans who had not experienced a concussion during blast exposure. She found that blast exposure has the same effects on a person, regardless of whether the person experienced a concussion as a result of the blast.

“I think what this study demonstrates is that's not all that there is, that there is something about blast exposure that is also associated with memory impairment,” said Grande.

With around 800 veterans around the country participating in the study, the Boston VA hopes to identify combinations of risk factors that may predict unfavorable outcomes so that they can target these people for care and specialized intervention. TRACTS works primarily with veterans from Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) and Operation New Dawn (OND). For more information on the study, check out the TRACTS VA website.

Veterans interested in enrolling in the study should contact study recruiter Wall Musto at 617-799-8617.