Brain Injury Awareness Month: Recognizing TBIs in our military

Published 3:00 pm Thursday, March 10, 2016

One out of every five service members that return from battle in Iraq or Afghanistan has experienced a possible traumatic brain injury (TBI), according to the RAND Corporation. With more than 2.5 million service members having deployed since 9/11, that means half a million may have sustained a brain injury. These injuries, which can seem harmless and often go unnoticed, can have profound consequences, and we can’t afford to ignore them.
A TBI is an injury to the brain, resulting from a jolt or blow to the head. It can range from mild to severe. TBIs are more common now than they have been in previous military engagements precisely because of how advanced our military has become. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are prevalent in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in response the U.S. military has developed armored vehicles to withstand them. These armored vehicles are saving lives but in the process, they are taking a beating, and so are the men and women riding inside.
Anyone with children who play sports is probably familiar with the signs of a mild TBI, or a concussion: headache, dizziness, nausea, difficulty remembering things or paying attention, problems sleeping, and mood swings. Mild TBIs can be especially difficult to diagnose in the military, since stress can cause a similar reaction, and since symptoms do not always appear immediately following an injury.
Severe TBIs may be easier to identify, but soldiers are sometimes hesitant to report even a severe injury. It can be hard for many service members to acknowledge an invisible wound, as if a cognitive injury should be easier to control than a physical one. They may feel shame. They may fear being ostracized or criticized as weak. Or they might worry that a diagnosis will result in retribution or could affect their rank or service.
It can take months or even years for a service member to finally be diagnosed with a TBI that he or she may not even remember having sustained. Friends and family are often the first ones to notice a problem. That’s why it’s important for all of us to know the signs of a TBI. And since March is Brain Injury Awareness Month, now is the right time to remind ourselves.
A great place to learn all about brain injuries is the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. You can also get involved in DVBIC’s A Head for the Future Initiative to help the military community prevent, recognize, and recover from what can be a truly debilitating injury.
As difficult as it may be for a service member to acknowledge and get help for a TBI, it can be just as hard for the loved ones who see the symptoms unfold and can’t begin to imagine the injury that caused them. What can you do if you care for a service member who you think might have a TBI? First, try to get help for your loved one. Reach out to DVBIC or to the VA. Talk to doctors or your care coordinator.
But don’t forget to get help for yourself. Operation Family Caregiver (OFC) can help. Provided in communities across the country through the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving, OFC offers free and confidential support to the families of those who have served our nation. Specially-trained “coaches” help caregivers learn how to overcome the obstacles they face and to manage any challenges that might come along. The program is proven to help caregivers become more satisfied with their lives, have fewer health issues, and generally become more prepared to take care of their families.
Learn more about Operation Family Caregiver at, or contact us at to find support. Brain Injury Awareness Month is a great time to get started. Don’t let March pass you by without taking care of you and your family.

Leisa Easom, Ph.D., is executive director of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving, Americus.