Operation Brainstorm envisions a ‘world without headaches’
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Operation Brainstorm envisions a ‘world without headaches’

Jul 08, 2023

Dr. Timothy Smith – a national leader in headache medicine and management – laid down some alarming statistics to The American Legion TBI, PTSD & Suicide Prevention Committee in Charlotte, N.C., Aug. 25 during the organization’s 104th National Convention:

- About 6.7 million U.S. military veterans – approximately 36% of those who have served – suffer with migraines and disabling headaches, about triple that of the general public.

- Some 2 million of those veterans are receiving medical care for their headaches.

- On any given day in the United States, about 150,000 sufferers are so afflicted they cannot leave their beds, let alone go to work.

- 78% of veterans are using medication of some kind for their headaches.

- On average, veterans go 10 years without migraine-specific treatment and 20 years before they see a headache specialist.

“This is a veteran and active military issue,” Dr. Smith told the committee. “It also affects the rest of the military community – the auxiliary folks, support people, caregivers, family … This needs our best interventions.”

The National Headache Foundation’s Operation Brainstorm is a nationwide effort to increase education, learn more from veteran sufferers and help them get treatment specific to headache disorders. Dr. Smith explained that they can be so debilitating, veterans will consider taking their own lives rather than continue suffering.

Health-care conditions common among those who have served intensify the problem, he added. “At least a third or more have mental health disorders to go along with it. Suicidality, suicide ideation and suicide events are much higher among this population.”

Operation Brainstorm is in Phase 1 of its mission to achieve “a world without headaches.” That phase leans directly into the prevalence of disabling headaches among veterans and has already involved “listening tour” events at American Legion posts in Tennessee, Oklahoma and Washington, D.C. The foundation is now looking to schedule more gatherings where veterans can come, share their stories, learn how to advocate for themselves and get long-awaited relief.

The foundation tries to build awareness among veterans and their primary care providers that 19 Headache Centers for Excellence are available across the country to specifically treat their conditions.

“Our ask of (The American Legion) is to let us come up alongside you and try to serve veterans and the military community as a whole and try to provide assistance, care, education, advocacy and research,” Dr. Smith said. “What we need to do is get (sufferers) from a grassroots level so that primary care physicians know how to drive these patients into these centers of excellence, when it is appropriate. Part of that is helping these patients – ex-military patients – know how to advocate for themselves, know how to get into the system and achieve the kind of success they want to and need to.”

There is no need for veterans to suffer years with these problems, he explained. “If it takes 25 years, it’s wasted. The clock is ticking. I’m telling you that with problematic headache disorders, there’s an urgency to it. The longer patients go untreated, the more significant the problem gets. Scientists say that these headache attacks will … worsen.”

More information is available at https://headaches.org/operationbrainstorm/.