Acute assessment of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress after exposure to a deployment-related explosive blast.

Baker, M. T., Moring, J. C., Hale, W. J., Mintz, J., Young-McCaughan, S., Bryant, R. A., Broshek, D. K., Barth, J. T., Villarreal, R., Lancaster, C. L., Malach, S. L., Lara-Ruiz, J. M., Isler, W., & Peterson, A. L., for the STRONG STAR Consortium.
May 18, 2018

Military Medicine, 183(11-12), e555-e563.


Traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are two of the signature injuries in military service members who have been exposed to explosive blasts during deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Acute stress disorder (ASD), which occurs within 2–30 d after trauma exposure, is a more immediate psychological reaction predictive of the later development of PTSD. Most previous studies have evaluated service members after their return from deployment, which is often months or years after the initial blast exposure. The current study is the first large study to collect psychological and neuropsychological data from active duty service members within a few days after blast exposure.

Materials and Methods:

Recruitment for blast-injured TBI patients occurred at the Air Force Theater Hospital, 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, Joint Base Balad, Iraq. Patients were referred from across the combat theater and evaluated as part of routine clinical assessment of psychiatric and neuropsychological symptoms after exposure to an explosive blast. Four measures of neuropsychological functioning were used: the Military Acute Concussion Evaluation (MACE); the Repeatable Battery for the Assessment of Neuropsychological Status (RBANS); the Headminder Cognitive Stability Index (CSI); and the Automated Neuropsychological Assessment Metrics, Version 4.0 (ANAM4). Three measures of combat exposure and psychological functioning were used: the Combat Experiences Scale (CES); the PTSD Checklist-Military Version (PCL-M); and the Acute Stress Disorder Scale (ASDS). Assessments were completed by a deployed clinical psychologist, clinical social worker, or mental health technician.


A total of 894 patients were evaluated. Data from 93 patients were removed from the data set for analysis because they experienced a head injury due to an event that was not an explosive blast (n = 84) or they were only assessed for psychiatric symptoms (n = 9). This resulted in a total of 801 blast-exposed patients for data analysis. Because data were collected in-theater for the initial purpose of clinical evaluation, sample size varied widely between measures, from 565 patients who completed the MACE to 154 who completed the CES. Bivariate correlations revealed that the majority of psychological measures were significantly correlated with each other (ps ≤ 0.01), neuropsychological measures were correlated with each other (ps ≤ 0.05), and psychological and neuropsychological measures were also correlated with each other (ps ≤ 0.05).


This paper provides one of the first descriptions of psychological and neuropsychological functioning (and their inter-correlation) within days after blast exposure in a large sample of military personnel. Furthermore, this report describes the methodology used to gather data for the acute assessment of TBI, PTSD, and ASD after exposure to an explosive blast in the combat theater. Future analyses will examine the common and unique symptoms of TBI and PTSD, which will be instrumental in developing new assessment approaches and intervention strategies.

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