Combat exposes servicemen and women to many risks, and among these is the risk of head injuries from bomb blasts, motor vehicle accidents, or other traumas. Military veterans who have experienced head injuries may not always get immediate treatment. They may believe they are fine if no immediate symptoms develop. However, they may develop symptoms of brain trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder at a later time.
Traumatic Brain Injury
Soldiers in combat zones may be exposed to explosive blasts that can cause head injuries. However, not all injuries mean damage to the skin or bones. Injury to the brain can occur even though there is no visible damage. Even if injuries to the head don’t seem severe, they can cause traumatic injury to the brain. When the head receives a jarring motion from a blast, the brain can bounce around inside the skull.
Traumatic brain injuries, or TBI, can be mild, moderate, or severe. Mild symptoms of TBI include irritability, anxiety, insomnia, mood changes, concentration problems, depression, and feeling out of control. Many of these symptoms are also common in PTSD. The two conditions are often treated together to ensure the best recovery for returning veterans. Moderate or severe symptoms of TBI include headaches, nausea, seizures, slurred speech, numbness in extremities, coordination problems, agitation, and confusion.
Treatment for TBI
Anyone with a head injury should get immediate treatment, especially if they lose consciousness for even a short time. Even if there is no exterior damage to the skull, the delicate brain tissue may have suffered an injury. Treatment includes ensuring sufficient oxygen to the brain and relieving pressure from brain swelling, which can cause additional injury. Surgery may be required to repair damaged blood vessels or relieve brain swelling. Immediate treatment for head injuries can reduce the likelihood that long-term symptoms will develop. If an injury has occurred, veterans may require ongoing care for motor problems, speech problems, and psychological issues.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
PTSD, as this disorder is often called, is a result of having experienced sustained or extreme psychological trauma. The condition is caused by enduring gruesome scenes, such as those of war, or from living in a constant state of fear for your life. PTSD does not happen to every soldier, and scientists are unsure why it affects some and not others. Symptoms of PTSD include re-experiencing the traumatic event, night terrors, sleep disturbances, hypervigilance, difficulty controlling emotions, and social avoidance.
Treatment for PTSD
Veterans may have a difficult time getting an accurate diagnosis of PTSD. Unfortunately, many veterans are not recognized as having PTSD. These individuals often suffer the effects of their disorder in silence, sometimes with disastrous results. PTSD can often mimic symptoms of depression, anxiety, or difficulty adjusting to civilian life, making an accurate diagnosis difficult to obtain. Once a diagnosis is made, treatment with cognitive behavioral therapy can often be helpful in relieving symptoms and allowing the veteran to fully rejoin the civilian community.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is goal-oriented and time-limited. In this method of therapy, the therapist and patient work together to change thinking about traumatic events and also work to change behaviors to produce more successful outcomes. Exposure therapy can help veterans gradually overcome their intense reactions and sense of isolation. Often, cognitive behavioral therapy is combined with medications to relieve symptoms in the short-term until long-term management is achieved.