Eye injuries occurring through combat are changing and the nature of our current conflicts are pushing the numbers higher. Today’s battlefield conditions result in 16 percent of all those wounded/evacuated having penetrating eye injuries and/or TBI-related visual dysfunction due to blast forces. It is estimated that approximately 55,000 service members have some type of eye injury and 70 percent of those with eye blast injuries also endure traumatic brain injury (TBI) visual dysfunction. Serious combat eye trauma is now, according to VA data, the fourth most common combat injury, trailing only PTSD, TBI, and hearing loss.
One example is Sgt. Dorian Gardner, who was on foot patrol at the Forward Operating Base Kajaki, near the Kajaki Dam on the Helmand River, when he took a prone fighting position and began to scan for enemy activity. Shortly after laying down, a mortar exploded near his position, and instantaneously everything changed. After being treated at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda Maryland, Sgt. Gardner ended up losing his left eye, and only retaining 15-20 percent vision in his right eye. He was now legally blind. After attending the week-long convention hosted by the Blinded Veterans Association, Sgt. Gardner was able to unite with fellow visually-impaired veterans and join a peer support group. While still facing many challenges, Gardner now has a new group of friends and mentors who understand and can relate. To read the full story, please see the following link- Sgt. Gardner's Story (on page 34).
Recently, we met with Tom Zampieri, the Director of Government Relations for the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA). BVA is an organization that hopes to make life better for blinded veterans through service programs, regional groups, resources, and advocacy. BVA, a congressionally chartered veteran service organization that has been in existence for sixty-five years, does not charge for any services they provide, and membership is not a prerequisite to obtain help. The BVA is one organization that is focused on the combat related eye trauma space, and having an impact on the lives of individuals such as Sgt. Dorian Gardner.
Increased exposure to combat over the last ten years of conflict has also exposed a number of unique problems. Penetrating eye injuries and TBI-related visual dysfunction due to blast forces is one example. The Department of Defense has identified research into Restoration of Sight and Eye-care as one of four top priorities for funding. Treatment of acute eye injury on the battle field and in early stages of medical evaluation can determine the extent of resulting vision impairment of chronic eye disease later and the associated need for vision rehabilitation. As a result, the ability to effectively treat acute eye damage can have long-term implications for an individual’s vision health and quality of life for the remainder of their military service and into their civilian lives.
The White House will continue collaborative relationships between the Federal Government, private industry, non-profit organizations, local communities, veteran service organizations, and other nations to address the unique needs of the military population. Ensuring that the best possible support is available to our service members and veterans is one of our main goals and, as troops begin to draw down, many of our nation’s veteran service organizations will play an important role in providing that extra support to our military community.
For more information on the BVA, please visit their website at the following link- The BVA Website.