TBI & the Military

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shawn Weismiller

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a significant health issue which affects service members and veterans during times of both peace and war. The high rate of TBI and blast-related concussion events resulting from current combat operations directly impacts the health and safety of individual service members and subsequently the level of unit readiness and troop retention. The impacts of TBI are felt within each branch of the service and throughout both the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care systems.

In the VA, TBI has become a major focus, second only to recognition of the need for increased resources to provide health care and vocational retraining for individuals with a diagnosis of TBI, as they transition to veteran status. Veterans may sustain TBIs throughout their lifespan, with the largest increase as the veterans enter into their 70s and 80s; these injuries are often caused by falls and result in high levels of disability.

Active duty and reserve service members are at increased risk for sustaining a TBI compared to their civilian peers. This is a result of several factors, including the specific demographics of the military; in general, young men between the ages of 18 to 24 are at greatest risk for TBI. Many operational and training activities, which are routine in the military, are physically demanding and even potentially dangerous. Military service members are increasingly deployed to areas where they are at risk for experiencing blast exposures from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), suicide bombers, land mines, mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades. These and other combat related activities put our military service members at increased risk for sustaining a TBI.

Although recent attention has been intensively focused on combat-related TBI, it should be noted that TBI is not uncommon even in garrison and can occur during usual daily activities. Service members enjoy exciting leisure activities: They ride motorcycles, climb mountains and parachute from planes for recreation. In addition, physical training is an integral part of the active duty service member's everyday life. These activities are expected for our service members and contribute to a positive quality of life; but these activities also can increase risk for TBI.

To delve deeper into issues of TBI and the military, please read the articles we’ve provided in this section. Topics aim to increase awareness of the unique issues that contribute to TBI in the military and what is being done to support the care and recovery of combat wounded troops and veterans with TBI.

Related Articles

  • TBI Basics

    A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be classified as mild, moderate, severe or penetrating. The severity is determined at the time of injury.

  • Returning to Duty

    Why does concussion affect returning to duty and what can service members do to help themselves return to duty faster?

  • Cumulative Concussions

    There is increasing concern that individuals who sustain multiple concussions are at risk for prolonged or permanent neurologic damage, including early onset dementia.

  • Strategies for Symptom Management

    With the increased awareness of mTBI or concussion, many military health care providers find themselves without the necessary tools to treat chronic and co-occurring symptoms.

  • Concussion Screening

    A concussion or mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) may not be readily identified unlike a more serious closed or penetrating head injury.