A traumatic brain injury is exactly what it sounds like. Not all brain injuries are traumatic, but when it comes to the military, they normally are. A TBI can happen in a variety of ways, but for the military it tends to happen in combat from a blast, a vehicle accident, or a gunshot wound. A concussion is even a mild form of a TBI. A TBI does not always happen from an obvious injury and loss of consciousness isn’t a must.
There are a variety of physical and mental symptoms. Most will go away with time and leave no lasting signs.
Change in Sensory Perception
Change in Sleep Pattern/Trouble Sleeping
Sensitive to Noise/Light
Changes in Personality
Difficulty Putting Thoughts into Words
Difficulty with Reason/Logic
Quick to Anger
Not a lot is known about repeated TBI’s, which I think would not be unheard of in combat. Studies done on football players and boxers found that repeated brain injuries can lead to chronic encephalopathy, a type of dementia. A study of retired professional football players found depression in players with a history of 3 or more concussions was three times more likely. Recent studies of college football players showed an association between multiple concussions and reduced cognitive performance, prolonged recovery, and the increased likelihood of future concussions.
The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have resulted in increased numbers of Veterans who have TBI’s. The DOD and the Defense and Veteran’s Brain Injury Center estimate that 22% of all Iraq and Afghanistan combat wounds are brain injuries. This is compared to 12% in Vietnam. Veterans seem to have symptoms for longer than civilians, lasting 18-24 months after the TBI. Also, many Veterans have more than one medical problem, including PTSD and chronic pain, which makes it harder to get better.
The VA is equipped to care for veterans with TBI’s, but for the most part, there isn’t any treatment. The best way to recover is to slowly go back to your normal routine. This makes sense for those who have been injured in a car accident, but what about during combat? Especially in cases where there are no external injuries and everyone goes right back to work? Symptoms can get worse if you push yourself too hard, try to tough it out, or maybe not realize something is wrong. The husband wasn’t diagnosed till six years after his TBI. I’m guessing on that, but we are sure his TBI(s) occurred during a deployment in 2006/2007.
If you recognize symptoms and a TBI is a possibility, have it checked out. If the veteran won’t, do you best to have them checked out. I know that isn’t easy, I have the stubbornest man as a husband, but having it correctly diagnosed is a start in understanding the problem.