Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD in Veterans

Physical injuries are easy to see and, therefore, simpler to treat. However, not all wounds are physical; some are internal or emotional, making them harder to diagnose. Such is the case with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) suffered by combat veterans. Research suggests that there is a link between TBI’s and other mental health-related disorders.

In 2015, National Geographic posted an article titled The Invisible War on the Brain. The report stated that the U.S. Department of Defense had identified 230,000 veterans with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) between 2001 and 2014. The symptoms associated with the injury also mirrored post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The article brought to light an old debunked theory that suggested a link between exposure to blast events as the cause of the TBI and increased susceptibility to psychological disorders. When soldiers returned from Afghanistan and Iraq, experts identified the blast force as the primary cause of injury, which further validated the theory.

Furthermore, in 2018, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs suggested on their website that many of the symptoms associated with a TBI also overlap with common reactions after experiencing trauma. Also, the VA’s website states that many people who get a TBI also develop PTSD. Mental health professionals concur as TBI’s are a result of exposure to trauma. While TBI manifests differently among individuals, they commonly have a physical, cognitive, and emotional component.

  • Physical aspects can include but are not limited to headaches, dizziness, feeling tired, difficulty sleeping, sensitivity to noise and light, and difficulty with vision.

  • Cognitive symptoms may involve trouble staying focused, acting without thinking, struggling with putting thoughts into words, and memory complications.

  •  Emotional changes can unfold in anger outbursts, anxiety, and depression.

Research on TBI is ongoing, and the general public does not widely understand it. For this reason, family and friends may get frustrated or not be supportive or empathetic. A comprehensive understanding of TBI’s is part of the recovery process. The VA uses a TBI screening tool that can serve as an initial assessment tool in determining whether or not you or a loved one is suffering from a TBI. A positive result is an indicator of needing further testing. Upon diagnosis, it is recommended that you get plenty of rest, resume responsibilities at your own pace, and avoid drinking alcohol. All of these recommendations are considered beneficial in helping the brain heal.

If you experienced a TBI or other traumatic experience as a military member, I would encourage you to seek out counseling from a licensed mental health professional. The majority of our clinicians at the Dallas Counseling and Treatment Center accept Tricare and specialize in PTSD. We thank you for your service and want to assist you in any way that we can. To learn more information about TBI and PTSD for veterans and access some of their resources, you can visit their website.