When thinking about mental disorders resulting from military service, most think of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD first and foremost. While, PTSD is a prominent concern facing those who have experienced trauma in warzones, there are a number of other impacts to mental health that can impact one’s life including traumatic brain injury (TBI).
The CDC defines a TBI as “a disruption in the normal function of the brain that can
be caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or penetrating head injury.”
TBI can occur when something outside the body hits the head with significant force or causes the head to forcefully and rapidly move. Common examples are car accidents, falls, or a blast from an explosion. Traumatic brain injuries range in severity from mild to severe.
Side effects from TBI are listed below by category.
Physical effects may include:
- Difficulty speaking
- Blurry eyesight or sensitivity to light
- Trouble hearing or sensitivity to noises
- Loss of energy
- Change in sense of taste or smell
- Dizziness or trouble with balance
Cognitive effects may include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Trouble with attention
- Difficulty making decisions
- Repeating things
Behavioral effects may include:
- Becoming angry or frustrated easily
- Acting without thinking
If you experience any of the above symptoms, reflect back on your military service to determine if you ever could have suffered from a brain injury. Most TBIs are classified as mild; however, a lifetime accumulation of TBI events can have a long-lasting impact.
Having multiple mild TBIs has been associated with greater risk of psychological health conditions. The association with neurodegenerative disease and repetitive TBI impact has been a frequent topic in the news media. There is some evidence in epidemiological studies (studies that use clinical diagnostic codes and/or health records) of a link between the two.
The DOD estimates that 22 percent of all combat casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan are brain injuries. TBI is a significant cause of disability outside of military settings, most often as the result of assaults, falls, automobile accidents, or sports injuries.
Right now, research is ongoing and fueled largely by recent revelations from professional football players. These findings can apply to years of service in environments where falls, blows to the head, and explosions are not uncommon.