MoD reveals scale of brain injuries among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans Matthew Taylor Wednesday January 16, 2008 The Guardian Hundreds of troops returning to the UK from Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering brain injuries caused by exposure to high-powered explosions or minor blows to the head, it emerged yesterday. The Ministry of Defence said that since 2003 about 500 servicemen and women had suffered "mild traumatic brain injury" (mTBI) - which can lead to memory loss, depression and anxiety. The Surgeon General, Lieutenant General Louis Lillywhite, said that more troops could come forward as awareness of the condition increased. "We have put a significant amount of effort and resources into this area in order to get ahead of the game," he said. One option was to put sensors in soldiers' helmets to measure blast waves as they travelled through the brain, he said. "The US are introducing sensors and we are considering doing that as well, although we are awaiting their results." The US army says up to 20% of its soldiers and marines have suffered mTBI and the condition has been designated as one of four "signature injuries" of the Iraq war by the US defence department. According to US neurologists, mild brain injuries can occur when a soldier gets a blow on the head or is close to an explosion. The use of roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan has put troops at risk, and experts say that even the most advanced helmets cannot protect the brain from shock waves. The Guardian revealed last year that an official inquiry had been launched into how many UK troops could be affected. Lt Gen Lillywhite said UK officials were reluctant to extrapolate directly from the US figures, arguing that the science was still inconclusive and that the UK's experience in Iraq and Afghanistan has been different to the US's. "The bottom line is we do not know why the US is seeing higher rates," he said. "It is clearly a matter of interest to us because the difference may point to methods of prevention." Last night campaign groups and MPs warned that the government figures had underestimated the number of UK troops at risk - and called for an urgent campaign to educate doctors, army medics and frontline troops about the danger signs. "The difference between what is emerging from the US and what's emerging from the UK cannot be explained by differing roles of our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq," said Peter McCabe from Headway, the brain injury charity. "There may well be high numbers of UK service personnel that are going undiagnosed." Dr Liam Fox, the Conservative defence spokesman, said: "There is an extraordinary disparity between levels identified by the US military and the British. Even if this represents over-caution on the part of the Americans there must be a real worry over under-reporting on the British side which could leave many service personnel in danger of falling through the net." Sue Freeth, the director of welfare at the Royal British Legion, said many GPs did not know which of their patients had been in the army and warned that UK figures could be "the tip of the iceberg". The MOD identified 585 UK troops who had suffered traumatic brain injury since 2003 out of 36,000 who had reported medical problems. About 80% were estimated to have suffered mTBI and officials said most did not need hospital treatment. Lt Gen Lillywhite said it was impossible to predict how big the issue may become, adding that the MOD was conducting several research projects to improve its understanding of the condition. He said an education campaign was under way and a new four-stage treatment programme had been set up at the Headley Court military rehabilitation centre in Surrey which would help identify and treat sufferers. Advances in brain scanning have revealed that soldiers can sustain bruising and blood clots on the brain, even if there is no visible injury. If the condition is not diagnosed it can lead to long-term problems - from depression and anxiety to violence and relationship break-up.