T

he secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs announced Wednesday that he would donate his brain to concussion research after his death, saying that he wanted to “in a small way, contribute to the vital research happening to better understand brain trauma.”

Secretary Robert McDonald, an Army veteran, joins hundreds of veterans and former athletes who have given their brains to science in hopes that experts can learn more about how blows to the head — those that cause concussions as well as more minor injuries — may contribute to longterm neurological problems, including a disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

“We don’t know nearly as much as we should about brain health, but if there’s one thing I’ve seen after visiting almost 300 VA facilities in the past two years, our veterans, particularly those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, are greatly affected by” traumatic brain injury, McDonald said in a statement. “VA needs to continue leading the coalition of scientists working to improve their lives.”

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McDonald’s brain will go to research done by VA scientists led by Dr. Ann McKee, a Boston University neuropathologist who directs the regional agency’s neuropathology service and brain bank in Bedford, Mass. The brain bank has 325 brains and more than 1,000 additional brains pledged.

Along with McDonald, swimmer and Olympic gold medalist Nancy Hogshead-Makar and retired linebacker Phil Villapiano pledged Wednesday to leave their brains to science.

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