• Afghan Soldier Likely Took a Brain Test Riddled with Problems

    By Wire News Sources on March 20, 2012

    by Lena Groeger

    The aftermath of last week’s killing of 16 Afghans has
    prompted a flurry of speculation into the mind of 38-year old U.S. combat staff sergeant Robert
    Bales. In particular, the injuries to it.

    Traumatic brain injuries are so
    common among today’s troops
    that the military has spent over million
    for a test to detect them, a test that Bales
    most likely took before his final deployment to Afghanistan
    . The problem
    is, that test has failed miserably.

    More than a million soldiers have taken the 20
    minute computerized test, known as the Automated Neuropsychological Assessment Metrics, or ANAM
    test. But as we
    reported last year in a ProPublica investigation
    , the
    test has been heavily criticized as an ineffective tool to detect brain
    injuries.

    Many news outlets, including the
    New York Times
    , have cited military officials saying Bales was treated for a traumatic
    brain injury
    during his past deployments in Iraq. Bales was reportedly
    injured in Iraq when his vehicle rolled over. The Army Medical Command would
    not comment on any specifics of Bales’ medical history or testing, but spokeswoman
    Maria Tolleson said that Joint Base Lewis McChord, where Bales was stationed,
    was fully operational with the ANAM testing program.

    “It would be expected that a deploying
    Army service member from that base would have a pre-deployment cognitive
    baseline completed,” said Tolleson.

    Problems have plagued the test since its
    introduction. Critics charge the military chose the test through a biased
    selection process
    and then ignored years of warnings that the test was
    fraught with problems. They also say the military has not administered the test
    properly.

    Soldiers
    are meant to take the test twice – once before deployment and then again
    after a suspected head injury. Soldiers must answer a series of questions that
    score basic thinking abilities such as reaction time, short-term memory and learning speed. In
    theory, the initial test serves as a baseline to compare the results of the
    second test; a discrepancy signals a possible injury and the need for more
    evaluation.

    But the test – which a former Army surgeon
    general has called no
    better than a “coin flip”
    – is rarely implemented that way.
    The Army was so unconvinced of the test’s accuracy that it issued
    an order
    not to
    send soldiers with a troublesome score for further medical evaluation.

    While there is no scientific consensus on the best
    test for traumatic brain injuries, alternatives do exist. Both the Army Special
    Forces and the National Hockey League chose a different test, called ImPact. Researchers
    are also developing new
    technologies
    to detect brain injuries, but right now the ANAM
    test remains the prime military TBI test.

    The precise nature of Robert Bales’ brain injuries
    and subsequent testing is one issue, but linking his injuries to his outburst
    of violence is another matter altogether.

    Scientists have not established any clear-cut
    connection between traumatic brain injures and later violence. This
    article from Wired
    explores some of the most recent studies on the
    topic, while the Los Angeles
    Times breaks down
    the many interacting factors that make drawing a
    clear line from injury to violence nearly impossible.


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