Today, on Veterans Day, I remember and honor not only my Dziadzia who served in World War II but also all of the veterans who have fought so hard to serve our country and allow us the freedoms we have today. Thank you for your service, and thank you to those actively serving. We should all take a moment to acknowledge the sacrifices and hardships faced in combat and also the sacrifices and hardships that many continue to face after combat.
According to the CDC, it is estimated that approximately 5.3 million US citizens are currently living with disability secondary to traumatic brain injury (TBI). While we do not know exactly how many of these are veterans, it is likely a significant percentage. It is estimated that 400,000 US troops with TBI are currently deployed. An unfortunate result and common wound of war is TBI. This can often lead to chronic disability, suicide, other diagnoses such as post-traumatic stress (PTS), major mental disorders among other diagnoses.
Here are some eye-opening statistics. It is important to note that these numbers may in fact be larger due to the often-missed diagnosis of TBI.
- From 2000 to 2020, it is approximated that more than 430,000 US military personnel sustained a TBI
- Incidence of TBI has steadily increased
- Military members sustain TBIs during training activities, accounting for 80% of new TBIs
- Nearly 60,000 veterans were evaluated and/or treated for a TBI-related condition from a VA medical center out of 770,000 of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom
- TBI significantly increases risk of suicide
- It is estimated that over 40,000 veterans are homeless on any given night, accounting for 11% of homeless adults in the US
- There is a 41% higher risk of suicide in deployed veterans and 61% higher risk of suicide in non-deployed veterans compared to the general US population
- Suicide rates among veterans have increased to 20 per day from 17.2 per day in 2019
- In 2019, 6,261 veterans lost their lives to suicide accounting for 13.7% of suicides among US adults
- More veterans are dying by suicide than combat
- Veterans with TBI are 60% more likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s
- It is estimated that 11-30% of veterans develop post-traumatic stress, in comparison to the general population which is 6.8%
This tells us that something is not working. PTS is often a misdiagnosis and may in fact be undiagnosed and untreated TBI. The driving force of depression, anxiety and substance abuse may in fact be undiagnosed TBI. Leading causes of homelessness among veterans in the US are social isolation, PTS and substance abuse.
Why is TBI so often missed? A societal misconception still runs rampant regarding TBIs. “It’s just a bump to the head.” “It’s only mild.” “Just rest a week and you’ll be fine.” The injury can seem innocuous. There can be minimal or mild symptoms after the injury leading the individual to think they are “fine.” Other symptoms may not develop for months to years after injury, leading to the often-missed diagnosis. By this point, the brain injury may have been completely forgotten. Sometimes, and one could argue often times, these injuries are not a result of direct trauma to the head. A common cause of TBIs in combat are from the force of blast injuries. By missing the diagnosis of TBI and not treating accordingly, we are doing our veterans a disservice.
There have been heartbreaking stories of veterans who have sought out care for debilitating long term symptoms and disability due to TBI and are struggling to receive proper diagnosis and care. Accurate diagnosis, testing and treatment is lacking and our veterans and those currently serving deserve better.
There is misunderstanding and misinformation from doctors themselves. There are limited options for patients suffering from the effects of brain injury. Many are thrown on many different medications and antidepressants that end up making the symptoms worse in the long-run! There are options out there, though limited, and this should not be the case.
The fact is, the statistics are staggering and many of our veterans are experiencing chronic ailments and disability. Having personally experienced just how much further the scientific community and non-scientific community need to grow in the understanding of TBI and other related disorders, I believe it is imperative that we continue to spread awareness and hopefully gain more effective diagnosis, testing and treatment accepted and given not by just a handful of doctors to help those suffering from brain injury. Many veterans are living with chronic ailments secondary to TBI and falling through the cracks. We must help pull them out and also fix the crumbling ground for those actively serving and those to serve in the future.
These veterans may no longer be fighting in combat but a great majority are still fighting an excruciating battle of the invisible wounds of war.
Here are some great organizations that are helping our veterans receive proper diagnosis and treatment as well as increasing TBI research. Consider donating and/or share these with a veteran in need:
Concussion Foundation Project Enlist
National Veteran Suicide Prevention Report 2021, VA