WASHINGTON, Aug. 27, 2009 – Time is of the essence when it comes to finding better treatments for traumatic brain injuries, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday at the 6th Annual World Congress for Brain Mapping and Image Guided Therapy.

“What I worry about the most is these young men and women who are sustaining these blast injuries are typically, most of them, in their 20s,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said during his keynote address, which opened the congress in Boston. “There’s 30, 40, 50 years of life out there, and just in my brief discussions with some of you, this doesn’t get better with time.

“We don’t have a lot of time,” he added. “We need to have a sense of urgency and treatment that gets to solutions as rapidly as we can.”

Another difficult challenge for the military is post-traumatic stress, Mullen said, which affects more than just those who fight on the front lines. It’s emerging in military families, as well.

“We’re seeing it in spouses, and we’re starting to see it, or some version of it, in children,” Mullen said. “Our system is very focused on military members, and so getting family assistance at [the Veterans Affairs Department], for instance, or family help at the VA, is not part of the law at this point.”

In an effort to solve these tough challenges, Mullen advocated the integration of work being done in different fields as a “clear and compelling requirement” to achieving the urgent solution the military seeks.

There’s much to learn, he said, citing the list of papers and subjects in the research area. As a Defense Department leader, Mullen said, he wants to be an asset and an advocate and to try to figure out, even inside the military, how to connect what he calls the “line leadership” with the medical side.

“I will tell you that these wars have done many things, and one of the things that they’ve done is accelerated the integration between medicine and medical leadership and line leadership, which was, in its own way, greatly stovepiped before these wars started,” Mullen said. “It’s just because of the way we built the system over time, and those things have to change.”

That design could be a downfall for the military, he said. The military’s future is embedded in its people, and part of the reason people stay in the military is because they know they’ll be cared for, he said. If that promise isn’t delivered every day, servicemembers and their families will go elsewhere.

“Time really does matter right now, because as you can just read the headlines today, we have young men and women who are sustaining these kinds of injuries every single day,” he said.

The 6th Annual World Congress for Brain Mapping and Image Guided Therapy is co-hosted by the International Brain Mapping and Intraoperative Surgical Planning Society and Elsevier, publisher of scientific information.

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