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Veteran's autopsy fuels concerns over brain injury in returning Mid-East vets

The autopsy of a 27 year-old ex-Marine, formerly an honor student, has lent urgency to the discussion of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in returning veterans.  The New York Times preported on April 26 that after the unnamed veteran's post-divorce suicide, an autopsy discovered evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the same form of brain injury observed in boxers and football players after repeated concussions.

The former A-student had returned from two tours in Iraq suffering from memory problems, irritability and social withdrawal.  He began drinking heavily, was diagnosed with PTSD, caused a drunken car crash, and his wife commenced divorce proceedings.  At his parents request, police investigated his apartment and found that he had hung himself.  The discovery of CTE, objective damage to his brain, strongly suggested that there may be a physical component to returning veterans' PTSD in addition to the pschological component.  Although there has been only one peer-reviewed medical publication of CTE findings in a returning vet's autopsy, the NYT reported that investigators associated with three separate scientific study groups have found additional examples that are headed toward publication. 

These findings, if borne out, would help to explain the signifcant increase in post-deployment suicides among Mid-East veterans, and also help physicians to better understand the traumatic origin and foundation of PTSD.  Unfortunately, CTE cannot be detected by any means other than autopsy, severely limiting the usefulness of these findings in treatment.

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