Common Issues in Veteran Head Trauma

Accurate head trauma diagnosis, treatment and rehab helps veterans

Head trauma and traumatic brain injury (TBI) are extremely common in U.S. military veterans. Individuals who served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) have some of the highest rates of head trauma and TBI.

According to Walter Reed Army Medical Center data, 60% of patients seen for injuries that happened because of a blast during these conflicts, suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Other combat related causes of head injury include:

  • Strikes on the head during a physical fight
  • The head striking objects such as a dashboard, wall, or the ground
  • Falling debris striking the head

General combat related injuries contribute to about 33% of traumatic brain injuries.

Head trauma in military personnel affects all structures of the face and head, with hearing loss, vision loss, and changes to appearance impacting the ability to successfully interact with others, understand treatments and prognosis, and receive adequate support.

As of 2007, all veterans requesting care through the Veterans Administration are required to undergo screening for head trauma associated traumatic brain injury.

Issues in Veteran Head Trauma

There are symptoms shared by many veterans who suffered head trauma. Medical personnel are trained to identify and treat these symptoms. Common problems include:

  • Chronic headaches that started after or became worse after a head trauma
  • Decreased work performance, difficulty keeping a job
  • Difficulty concentrating or finishing tasks
  • Changes in behavior or personality; irritability
  • Fatigue and altered sleep patterns
  • Changes in vision, coordination or ability to react to visual information

Veteran Head Trauma Treatments

Depending on the nature of the injuries and severity of symptoms, a variety of treatments are available for veterans.

Symptom management is a big focus of treatment, so that veterans can better cope with the day to day problems faced by a head injury. These include:

  • Education on how to cope with emotional, behavioral and cognitive problems
  • A clear strategy on managing associated health problems and long term complications
  • Rehabilitation, including physical, speech/language and occupational therapy
  • Technology and assistive devices that enhance function.

Treatment focuses on helping the veteran live the most successful, fulfilling and comfortable life possible. Safety is always a priority, so it’s important that interventions are something that the individual wants, and feels comfortable doing.

Goals of care include building independent living skills. Sometimes the basics of maintaining a household need to be re-learned, from healthy diet and managing bills, to caring for family members.

Transportation related needs have to be addressed. Is driving a problem? What community or family resources are available to ensure mobility and transport to places such as the doctor’s office, work, or school?

Are enjoyable activities happening on a regular basis? Integrating back into the community can be difficult, and for many it is helpful to socialize with others who understand the challenges of living with head trauma and brain injury. Recreational activities, support groups and group activities such as sports are activities that promote reintegration into society.

Overall health is always important. Issues such as depression, substance abuse, secondary illnesses or disabilities must be addressed. Any of these factors can make recovering from the head trauma much more difficult.

Help for Veterans after Head Trauma

If you are a Veteran, or concerned about a Veteran who is having a crisis contact the Veteran Crisis line at 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1.

You can also find Veteran Crisis help online.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1 (800) 273-8255

There are many resources available to help veterans cope with and even recover from head injury and associated sensory and tissue damage. Numerous research studies have made great strides in understanding head injury, traumatic brain injury in veterans, and the best possible treatments for this community.


Veteran Crisis Hotline (2015) Retrieved from

Veteran’s Health Initiative (2010) Traumatic Brain Injury; Retrieved from

Donnelly KT, Donnelly JP, Dunnam M, Warner GC, Kittleson CJ, Constance JE, Bradshaw CB, Alt M. (2011) Reliability, sensitivity, and specificity of the VA traumatic brain injury screening tool. J Head Trauma Rehabil. 2011 Nov-Dec;26(6):439-53

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