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‘High Priority’ Scanners Gone From War Zone

January 22, 2014
Written by: , Filed in: Diagnostic Imaging, Emergency Radiology, Neuroradiology
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Three MRI machines sent to Afghanistan to help diagnose brain injury in troops exposed to roadside bombs and other explosive devices have been quietly shut down and dismantled, USA Today reported last week.

Getting the scanners to the war zone was “a very high priority” for retired Admiral Mike Mullen. He was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—the nation’s highest-ranking military officer—when he pushed for their deployment in 2011, as we reported at the time.

The MRI machines apparently weren’t a priority for most top military medical officers. Air Force Colonel Mark Mavity, MD, said the scanners, installed in November 2011, were shut down in February 2013 and dismantled for spare parts in October. He didn’t see much of a role for them:

The device itself doesn’t necessarily help you treat that patient. It just helps you understand the nature of the injury in a little bit more meaningful way. [It] was deemed not worth the cost and investment to keep those devices in theater.

Dr. Mavity is command surgeon at the U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in Afghanistan.

Mullen had pushed for the machines despite little enthusiasm for them among military medical officers. He said in April 2011 that they were a top priority because he hoped they could help improve treatment of brain injuries.

After they finally became operational seven months later, military doctors primarily used them to conduct a study on their usefulness in a war zone, Dr. Mavity said. The study collected enough data by November 2012, he said. Three months later, the plugs were pulled.

Early results indicate that the MRI scans did find brain damage among troops exposed to explosions. But U.S. casualties were decreasing as the war was winding down, and the machines didn’t justify their $3 million annual operating cost, Dr. Mavity said.

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