Military misrepresents $18M traumatic brain injury tool

An $18 million tool that the Military Health System for two years has touted as way to gather information about traumatic brain injury (TBI) actually has nothing to do with management or assessment of TBI cases, reports Nextgov.

The Traumatic Brain Injury/Behavioral Health software tool was to include capabilities to fulfill a Department of Defense mandate calling for neurocognitive readiness assessments for all service members within six months of deployment.

Traumatic brain injury has become the signature injury from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, caused by exposure to roadside bombs. Research from Boston University and the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System has found that exposure to even a single bomb can create lifelong problems, according to Stars and Stripes.

More than 240,000 service member have been diagnosed with TBI from 2000 through the first quarter of fiscal 2012.

A $14.1 million contract for the tool was awarded to Vangent in February 2009, according to Nextgov, with a $4.2 million follow-on contract awarded in November 2010. The tool, according to Vangent, provided the capability for creating and storing psychological assessments, behavioral health encounters and sensitive information.

That didn't ring true, however, when the Air Force evaluated the tool last fall. Lt. Col. Robert Vanecek, Air Force chief of behavioral health optimization, told Nextgov, "we scratched our heads over the name ... this project has nothing to do with TBI. It is a standard clinical documentation tool."

Vanecek said the tool doesn't pull in or use data from TBI assessments, but merely records symptoms such as depression and anger. It's not integrated with the DoD's electronic health record system, requiring data input into two systems. And patients found the self-assessment portion of the tool complex and off-putting, according to Nextgov.

Vanecek added that the Air Force recommended canceling the program because the military EHR system can perform the same functions at a lower cost.

A spokesman for General Dynamics, which acquired Vangent in October 2011, said the contract was never for a TBI tool, but for a behavioral health module, according to Nextgov. The contract ended in June. Meanwhile, the Army has developed its own behavioral health data platform.

With the widespread need for TBI assessment and treatment, the military has been experimenting with various tech-enabled options, such as telehealth services and mobile apps for less severe cases.

In line with report blasting the DoD and the VA for their failure to track the effectiveness of treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, a Government Accountability Office report found DOD failed to account for how $2.7 billion allocated for research and treatment of TBI and other mental health issues was spent, according to Stars and Stripes.

To learn more:
- read the Nextgov story
- check out the research
- here's the GAO article from Stars and Stripes

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