Pulling the plug on warzone MRIs in Afghanistan

Three MRI machines that were sent to Afghanistan in 2011 in the hopes of scanning soldiers for mild traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) have been shut down and dismantled, as reported by USA Today on Jan. 18.

Mike Mullen, former admiral and top military officer of the Pentagon, pushed for the installment of advanced brain imaging machines in Afghanistan to help doctors see the TBIs that were affecting troops exposed to roadside bombs. Mild TBIs are difficult to diagnose and can only be determined through symptoms like loss of consciousness, dizziness, and confusion. Many soldiers who had mild TBIs experienced temporary to sometimes permanent issues with problem-solving and concentration.

However, the senior medical officer for the U.S. Central Command, Air Force Col. Mark Mavity, found it difficult to discern the true effectiveness of using MRI machines in the warzone, according to the USA Today report. Mavity believed that the machines did not aid in treatment of the patient, but rather just provided physicians with better understanding of the injury’s nature. Additionally, many of the military doctors primarily perceived the MRI scanners as tools for conducting research on the practicality of their use during war.

Enough data had been gathered from the study by November 2012 and while findings demonstrated that brain damage was found on the soldiers’ scans, previous published studies already proved that MRI aids doctors who are diagnosing and treating patients for mild brain injuries.

Beyond the completion of the study, the war was winding down, the operating costs were totaling at $3 million annually and the number of U.S. casualties was diminishing. Faced with these facts, Central Command and Air Force Lt. Gen. Douglass Robb made a final decision to shut down the machines in February 2012.