Traumatic Brain Injury & Veterans

Traumatic Brain Injury in Veterans Population

Unfortunately, veteran experiences during service can lead to mental and physical damage, including traumatic brain injury (TBI). According to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) around 414,000 American service members and veterans experienced a traumatic brain injury between 2000 and 2019.

It is essential for veterans with an expected or official diagnosis of TBI to get treatment. Without treatment, TBIs can lead to more physical and mental health difficulties. Treatment can allow for fulfilling lives surrounded by friends, family, and loved ones.

What is a TBI?

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a severe injury that impacts how the brain works. These injuries can be caused by getting bumped, jolted, or hit in the head. It can also be caused by a penetrating injury, such as a gunshot.

There are several ways to get a TBI. For example, athletes who play a contact sport, like football, might be at risk of getting a TBI. In addition, someone can get a TBI after getting into a vehicle accident or suffering from a severe fall.

TBIs affect a significant amount of people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United States saw over 64,000 deaths related to TBI in 2020. The CDC also estimates that roughly two percent of the population live with a disability that results from a TBI.

While anyone can get a traumatic brain injury, specific populations are more likely to experience it, including:

  • People who live in rural areas
  • Veterans and service members
  • People experiencing homelessness
  • Intimate partner violence survivors
  • Those in correctional and detention facilities

Military service men and women risk getting a TBI through experiencing explosions in combat or even from vigorous training exercises.

TBI Symptoms

Depending on the severity of the traumatic brain injury, it may be or may not be immediately evident that a person has one. One thing to consider is whether the person at risk of developing a TBI has recently suffered from a blow to the head.

Some additional symptoms to look for when determining whether a person might have a TBI include:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Constant headaches
  • Slurred speech
  • Light sensitivity
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Increased aggressiveness in relationships
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships
  • Extreme mood swings or even personality changes
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Vision problems
  • Hearing problems
  • Motor impairment (for severe cases)

If a person is experiencing these symptoms after a head injury, they will need an official diagnosis. A diagnosis can be made after completing a series of testing. These tests can involve X-rays, MRIs, and CAT scans. Imaging allows doctors to look inside the brain and identify any visible damage.

TBIs in Veterans

TBIs among veterans are common, however 82.4 %  were considered mild according to the Department of Defense. Another 9.1 percent were considered moderate, and 1 percent were considered severe.

However mild cases may be, they can still cause disruptions in the lives of the diagnosed veterans. Some veterans might experience sleep disorders, headaches, irritability, and memory problems. These symptoms make it challenging to hold down a job or maintain healthy family relationships.

These symptoms can lead to long-term mental and physical health problems. Such problems may impact veterans’ employment opportunities and make it more difficult to reintegrate into civilian life.

While historically, veterans have developed TBIs, they are becoming more prominent with recent activity. According to studies, 22 percent of combat wounds from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq were brain injuries. In comparison, 12 percent of combat wounds in Vietnam were TBIs.

When considering the severity of TBI, doctors will consider many things, including:

  • The severity of brain swelling, bruising, or bleeding as seen on computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Length of loss of consciousness
  • Length of memory loss
  • The individual’s responsiveness after injury

A concussion is another term for a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). These can be more challenging to identify immediately than severe TBI because concussions do not always appear on imaging tests. Additionally, TBI symptoms are similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. PTSD is another disorder that impacts the veteran population at relatively high rates.


Although they may share similar symptoms, being diagnosed with a TBI is not the same as being diagnosed with PTSD. However, there is some overlap between the two conditions.

Often, veterans diagnosed with TBI end up also being diagnosed with PTSD. This is because they got a TBI due to a traumatic event, usually a combat-related incident. The more traumatic the incident that caused the TBI, the more likely the person will also have PTSD.

The symptoms that TBIs and PTSD share include:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Extreme irritability

TBIs are not always visually apparent. It is crucial for veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD and have symptoms of TBI to seek medical treatment. A medical professional can help address the issues of both TBIs and PTSD.

Treatment for TBIs in Veterans

A traumatic brain injury is not exclusive to veterans. However, it seems that veterans who suffer from a TBI tend to exhibit symptoms for a more extended period than civilians. While many civilians can recover from a mild TBI within three months, it takes veterans 18 – 24 months to recover.

Additionally, veterans with a traumatic brain injury often have overlapping medical conditions that can slow their recovery. These conditions can include chronic pain, substance abuse, and PTSD.All of these factors are why it is so critical for veterans to seek treatment if they have a suspected or diagnosed TBI.

Some treatments that can help veterans with a TBI include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Cognitive therapy
  • Medication to control specific symptoms

Mental Health Help for Veterans in San Diego

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can cause physical and mental health difficulties in veterans. With proper treatment, veterans can manage their symptoms and get back to living fulfilling lives.

If you or a veteran you love are struggling with mental health disorder symptoms, reach out to Solara Mental Health today. Our team can answer any questions you may have and give you a better understanding of our veteran mental health services.