Providing comfort to soldiers with brain injuries

The military is rethinking its approach to treating soldiers with mild traumatic brain injuries, with Capt. Amy Gray leading the way
CBS News

Three NATO troops were killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan Wednesday. That kind of attack has caused nearly 40 percent of fatalities in Afghanistan and Iraq. It often causes the what's considered the "signature wound" of these wars: brain injuries. CBS News correspondent Clarissa Ward in Afghanistan says the military is taking a new approach.

Getting treated by Capt. Amy Gray can entail playing with dogs, watching movies, even getting massages.

An occupational therapist, Gray heads the concussion care center at Forward Operating Base Fenty where a simple technique is making the world of difference in treating soldiers with mild traumatic brain injury, known as brain sprain.

"I tell them, 'Your mission when you are with me is to sleep, relax and get better,'" she said.

Specialist Nick McKee was inside his base when an insurgent rocket exploded less than 20 feet away from him. He escaped without a scratch but quickly knew something was not right.

"I felt nauseous all that day and pretty much had headaches ever since," he said. "Trouble sleeping mainly. Trying to go on like it didn't happen -- that was probably the hardest part."

Despite incredible developments with blast-resistant vehicles, traumatic brain injury is still the most common injury on the battlefield. In the last 10 years, more than 320,000 servicemen and women have been diagnosed.

Up until recently, mild concussions often went untreated. If soldiers weren't visibly wounded, they kept on fighting, sometimes resulting in serious long-term health issues.

Now the military is rethinking its approach.

"What we found is that if we get them in the first 24 hours, get them down, get them a good night's sleep, their symptoms go away," said Gray.

More than 200 soldiers have passed through here since Gray arrived in May. Almost all have returned to duty within a week.

"I'm sleeping and eating and pretty much just anxious to get out to my guys," said McKee.

Gray: "I go from becoming Capt.Gray to mom and they will literally call me 'mom.'"

Part officer, part mother: Capt. Gray is wholly committed to treating her soldiers.

  • Clarissa Ward

    Foreign Correspondent, CBS News