Understanding the Importance of Military Neuropsychology

The Evolution of Neuroscience in the Armed Forces.

Posted Jun 28, 2020

Rodrigo Galindo from FreeImages
Source: Rodrigo Galindo from FreeImages

Neuropsychology is a discipline in clinical psychology which centers on how the brain and the nervous system affect an individual’s behavioral and cognitive abilities. Neuropsychologists conduct battery tests, diagnostics, and research to determine how brain injuries and illnesses affect human behavior and somatic or psychosomatic conditions. There are various brain disorders that can result in mental illness, and the practice of neuropsychology examines the scope and seriousness of brain and behavioral conditions to provide a more definitive diagnosis and implement best treatment practices. However, it is important to rule out any physiological and structural brain disorders in addition to neurological disorders before establishing treatment plans. Understanding the connection between the brain and human behavior is the gateway to progressing in neuropsychology.

Military Neuropsychology 

Like the civilian health industry, military neuropsychology provides assessments and clinical treatment plans for service members who have sustained neurological injuries, particularly traumatic brain injury (TBI). Additionally, military health professional focus on technological advancement efforts through developing new equipment and conducting complex research to improve and understand the ideation of the human brain-behavior relationship. 

For the military, neuropsychology is an essential and demanding field because of the number of brain injuries reported due to the rise in combat deployment incidents since the beginning of the 2000s. The Defense and Veterans Brain Information Center (DVBIC), an agency within the U.S. Military Health system, reported many mild (primarily concussions) and moderate-level TBI cases as a result of recreational activities and military training; however, most severe cases have been reported based on serious accidents, combat injuries and even fatalities.

According to DVBIC, at least 22 percent of all deaths from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom resulted from brain injuries. Researchers suggest that the majority of military personnel who experience TBIs in combat report multiple head injuries. Lindquist et al.'s (2017) investigative study determined that a little of over 17 percent of military veterans assessed met criteria for TBI during their active duty tenure while half of those veterans reported multiple head or other injuries, including PTSD, depression, back pain, and suicidal ideations.

Overall, the Department of Defense’s Worldwide Numbers for Traumatic Brain Injury report disclosed that there has been 417,503 brain injury cases between 2000 and 2019 within the U.S. Armed Forces. TBIs are becoming more common within the military ranks and the federal government is working beyond active duty service to examine the future physical and psychological effects of TBI through the Improved Understanding of Medical and Psychological (IMAP) Needs in Veterans and Services Members with TBI, a promising initiative to assist those with TBIs with access to necessary services.

Military Advancement Expanding within the Civilian Industry

In the early 1900s, notable civilian neuropsychologists, such as Gordon Homes, Alexander Luria, and John C. Marshall, participated in key experimental investigations that have shaped the evolution of neuroscience in the 21st century. Neuropsychologist Dr. Jordan Grafman concluded that such prominent experts efforts on researching primal traits of aphasia, identifying distinctive descriptions of frontal lobe conditions, antecedents for establishing different types of dyslexia, and determining dual route visual processing pathways to interpret recovery methodologies for brain functioning and plasticity have been significant feats in neuropsychology.

Even though the military neuropsychology field may be perceived as a small niche in a large industry, its expedient advancement in the discipline has a provided a larger platform for the civilian sector. This is due to the military’s innovative, strategic outlook beyond active duty service for long-term healthcare plans and research and development initiatives through the Department of Veterans Affairs' clinics and medical centers throughout the United States.

Military neuropsychologists have been the health leaders in analyzing neuropsychological constructs of TBIs. Additionally, military health professionals have been the leaders in defining PTSD while providing substantial brain research data that is significant to the civilian health field. This can be attributed to specialized training from prestigious military medical and health universities that provide education and career resources to military and civilian health professionals in the medical, public health, and psychological fields. For instance, the Uniformed Services University is the United States’ federal health sciences university which provides military medicine and public health programs. The Center for Deployment Psychology and the Graduate Education in Biomedical Sciences and Public Health specialities are well-known programs open to military and civilian health professionals.

What's Next in the Evolution of Neuropsychology

Military neuropsychology has made unprecedented strides in research, science and technological advancement, permitting DoD to spread education and awareness on the understanding of brain functioning and behavior due brain injuries sustained from military activities and combat. In the turn of the 21st century, following the fight on the Global War on Terrorism, service departments' efforts have forced military psychologists to restructure the way they perform clinical assessments and provide care to service members and veterans through establishing more medical centers for better clinical and treatment planning.

Green et. al (2017) believes improving TBI, concussion diagnosis and management, cognitive rehabilitation, validity testing, and multiple levels of care from acute concussion care to chronic and severe TBI treatment are some of the most promising health initiatives that are needed through military and civilian partnerships. The entities should focus on advancing neuropsychology through improving psychometrical testing and assessment protocols to progress statistical methodologies. Continuing to revolutionize policymaking and decision-making processes in the field affords that such advancements will improve testing validity and provide more defined assessments for diagnosis and treatment plans.

References

Defense and Veterans Brain Information Center. (2019). DoD worldwide numbers for TBI. https://dvbic.dcoe.mil/dod-worldwide-numbers-tbi

Grafman, J. (2011). Military neuropsychology. Journal of Neuropsychological Rehabilitation: An International Journal, 21(2), 279-287 https://doi.org//10.1080/09602011.2010.534245

Green, R. R., Jacobson, D. A., Waggoner, J. W., & Armistead-Jehle, P. (2017). Neuropsychology in the military. Handbook in Military Psychology, 147-154. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-66192-6_10

Lindquist, L. K., Love, H. C., & Elbogen, E. B. (2017). Traumatic brain injury in Iraq and Afghanistan veterans: New results from a national random sample study. Journal of Neuropsychiatry Clinical Neuroscience, 29(3), 254-259. https//.doi.org/10.1176/appi.neuropsych.16050100

McKee, A. C. & Robinson, M. E. (2014). Military-related traumatic brain injury and neurodegeneration. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 10(3), 242-253. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jalz.2014.04.003

"TBI by the Numbers." (2020). Make the Connection. https://maketheconnection.net/whats-new/tbi-statistics

Uniformed Services University. (n.d.). Academics. https://www.usuhs.edu/