Simulations being used to help veterans recover from brain injuries

August 1, 2011 4:54:56 PM PDT
About 300,000 veterans are believed to have suffered brain injuries in Iraq or Afghanistan. Usually, it's from a blast or explosion.

Many are going untreated because these injuries are often hard to diagnose. But Houston researchers have opened a new national center for brain injury study that may help veterans turn their lives around.

In this Debakey VA study, they're using avatars, goggles and virtual technology to help veterans say "No" to alcohol. The goggles simulate a real-life experience, and veterans can smell their alcohol of choice in the room.

Houston VA researchers say Iraq and Afghanistan veterans can have mild traumatic brain injury and not even realize it. If it begins affecting their families or their work, some may begin drinking to self medicate when they experience problems they don't expect.

"Problems with memory, problems with attention, difficulty concentrating; it's especially noticeable when people try to go back to school," Dr. Drew Helmer said.

Veteran Jason Williams was on patrol when the IED shot past his head.

"The bomb blast went right behind our heads so we were lucky, we were lucky that day," Williams said.

He thought he was fine but in Houston was diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury. He's taking more tests like this specialized MRI, because mild TBI is so hard to diagnose.

"The new advanced imaging techniques that we're using actually allow us to see things you can't see on MRI's that would be done in the hospital," Dr. Lisa Wilde said.

If they can see brain changes on a scan, they may find better treatments for blast or concussion injuries. To do that, the Debakey VA has opened a new rehabiltation research center. It's conducting seven pilot studies with more on the way to find and treat mild traumatic brain injuries.

Four-hundred veterans have already been evaluated at the Debakey VA's new center to study traumatic brain injury. If you are a veteran who may have symptoms, you can call 866- 838-2778, 713-794-7493 or 832-316-6336. You may also email or visit one of the following websites:,, or

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