MOAA Members Support Concussion Research on Veterans

MOAA Members Support Concussion Research on Veterans
Left, Maj. Gen. James "Spider" Marks, USA (Ret), addresses an "Enlisting Heroes" veteran hiring event in Las Vegas in 2013. Right, then-Lt. Gen. Dave Halverson, addresses a crowd during a 2012 event at Fort Lee, Va. (Photos by Jeff Bottari/WireImage/Getty Images; Army)

Two MOAA members have pledged their support to research that will advance the understanding of the effects of concussions.


Lt. Gen. Dave Halverson, USA (Ret), and Maj. Gen. James “Spider” Marks, USA (Ret), are supporting the Concussion Legacy Foundation's Project Enlist, which encourages members of the military community to pledge to donate their brains to research investigating treatments for a variety of disorders affecting the brain.


Marks, whose 30-plus years in uniform included multiple deployments, has pledged to donate his brain to Project Enlist. 


“If I become one entry into an aggregated pool of entries, that’s wonderful,” Marks said. “The contribution that I can make is to broaden the research denominator. You want to have an increased population in that pool. I want to be a part of that. I can help.”


The foundation was established in 2007 when Harvard football player-turned-WWE wrestler Chris Nowinski was receiving treatment for post-concussion syndrome. His doctor, concussion expert Robert Cantu, explained long-term effects of concussions and other information that Nowinski wanted to bring public.


Brains donated through the foundation go to a brain bank in Boston, which is run in a partnership between the VA Boston Healthcare System, Boston University, and the Concussion Legacy Foundation. It’s the largest tissue repository globally focusing traumatic brain injury and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – a degenerative brain injury found in athletes, servicemembers, and others exposed to repeated head trauma. At present, CTE can only be diagnosed by examining brain tissue after a subject’s death.


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Research is focused on developing a diagnostic test for CTE in living people, genetic risk factors, importance of age at first exposure, role of the physical career in brain trauma and recovery, and treatment for CTE.


The foundation began research by examining the effects of concussions on professional athletes. It recently increased efforts to study veterans, with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – seen as the signature weapons of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – a frequent cause of concussions and other traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).




In 20 years, about 414,000 veterans reported experiencing a TBI. More than 185,000 veterans who use the VA have been diagnosed with at least one TBI, according to the VA.


Marks said he hopes his brain can advance studies to help other servicemembers. He traces his concussion history back to his time playing lacrosse for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and more than a decade of rugby matches.


“This is a longitudinal study, and it’s over the course of years and years and years,” he said. “But what we can gather from the data that we have, and if we can add to that data that exists, we can really provide the services a greater sense of preparedness as well as wellness and recovery.”


Halverson, who began his 37-year Army career as a field artillery officer, noted how exposed troops had become to blasts. He recalled instances when he addressed troops to ensure they were wearing their protective gear properly.


“The environment of war is very, very tough, and the enemy does not play by a lot of our rules, so we have to be prepared to operate inside that environment,” he said. “So utilize the capabilities that we do give you because the environment is a very harsh, unprogrammed environment.”


Supporting Project Enlist is a small way to contribute to the larger mission, Halverson said.


“You want to make a difference,” he said. “I’ve seen some of the effects on our soldiers, and I truly believe some of their challenges they’ve faced is because of CTE and the blast effect, but it’s very hard to document that stuff. Until we learn more, we’re not going to be able to assist in truly taking care of our soldiers. My role right now is to pay back and to ensure if we do put servicemembers in harm’s way, to give them the best equipment and the best understanding so they can come home safely.”


You can pledge to donate your brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation online



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About the Author

Amanda Dolasinski
Amanda Dolasinski

Dolasinski is a former staff writer at MOAA.