LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - More than 20,000 U.S. veterans may have been given improper exams for traumatic brain injuries suffered in battle. The Department of Veterans Affairs says that means some of those vets could be walking around with undiagnosed brain injuries. That includes service members in Louisville.
When scars from the battlefield are on the inside they can be hard to spot. Especially, if you don't know what to look for.
In a stunning revelation, the Department of Veterans Affairs now says 24,588 vets making disability claims for traumatic brain injury, or TBI, were evaluated by people who weren't qualified to do the exam.
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"To think that there are veterans who have seen unqualified people at the VA, and now have gone back out on the street without a diagnosis? It's terrifying to think about," said Jason Quick, Regional Director for Concerned Veterans for America.
Quick said the Vets at the greatest risk are the ones walking around with undiagnosed traumatic brain injuries, and later decided to self medicate with drugs and alcohol.
"The effects of a misdiagnosis in cases like this could be fatal," Quick said.
Eric Hazard, spokesman for the Louisville Veterans Benefits Office, and Dr. Stephen Spanbauer, chief of compensation and pension for the Louisville VA Hospital, said they don't know if veterans groups have reason to be upset despite the fact that 28 of the affected veterans came from the Louisville VA.
Those veterans were examined not by a specialist - like a neurologist, psychiatrist or neurosurgeon - but by a general physician or in some cases, a physician's assistant or nurse practitioner.
Spanbauer contends anyone who performed a TBI exam did have some training in brain injuries and because a veteran wasn't seen by a specialist doesn't mean a traumatic brain injury was misdiagnosed.
"Did they get it right? Did they get the diagnosis right?" Spanbauer said. "I'm gonna bet we got it right."
That's not good enough for the Department of Veterans Affairs. It has updated its guidelines requiring all traumatic brain injury exams be done by a specialist. The VA is also sending out a letter to veterans who did not see a specialist the opportunity to resubmit their TBI claim and receive a new evaluation for Traumatic Brain Injury.