It's Not Just Big Blasts Damaging Veterans' Brains

Patricia Murphy | KUOW News | January 13, 2016

William Kerby was exposed to repeated blasts when he was deployed to Iraq as a Marine infantryman. “For instance, we were setting off a charge on a door or a gate to blow it open, and there’s nowhere really to go, so you basically turn away from it within a few feet,” Kerby said. “You can feel that kind of concussion, that shockwave, as it goes through your body.”

Officers of 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 'Ready First' 1st Armored Division, participate in an urban combat exercise at a training facility on Fort Bliss, Texas in 2011. FLICKR PHOTO/DVIDSHUB (CC BY 2.0)/HTTP://BIT.LY/1NJNS6ZKerby was part of a study by Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System and UW Medicine examining the effects of repeated explosions on veterans with mild traumatic brain injury. The study found that the more blasts they’re exposed to, the more the brain is affected. The findings were similar to brain changes found in boxers and football players.

Kerby remembers three explosions in Iraq that met the medical definition for mild TBI, which means they were strong enough to leave him either unconscious for a short time or stunned. “If I was a betting guy I would bet that those three would be the ones that caused me the damage," Kerby said. But he was also subjected to many smaller blasts, 15-20 a day for 8-10 days, he estimated...